NB Slots Sports >MMA Arena >Cory Sandhagen gets real on Umar Nurmagomedov: ‘It’s going to be a pain in the ass of a fight’

Cory Sandhagen gets real on Umar Nurmagomedov: ‘It’s going to be a pain in the ass of a fight’


Cory Sandhagen is acutely aware of what he’s up against on Aug. 3 when he faces Umar Nurmagomedov in a five-round bantamweight headliner at UFC Abu Dhabi.

“It’s going to be a pain in the ass of a fight, to be honest with you,” Sandhagen said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “It’s going to be a tough one. I’m ready for whatever.

“No one’s gotten to see my grappling. I know that’s going to be something that people talk about, but that’d be a fun thing for me to be able to show off, because I do work with Ryan Hall and it’s a really unique style, and I think it’s going to be a pain in the ass for him to have to deal with. The amount of space that he leaves is going to be a pain in the ass to deal with, but I’ll figure it out. And yeah, I trained 10 weeks already for him and I’m about to hop into another 12-week training camp, so I’ll have some really good answers for things.”

Sandhagen, 32, was previously scheduled to face Nurmagomedov in August 2023 at UFC Nashville, however Nurmagomedov withdrew just weeks out from the event due to a shoulder injury. Sandhagen instead faced and defeated late-replacement Rob Font, but suffered a nasty tear in his right tricep that ultimately kept him sidelined until only recently.

Nurmagomedov, 28, is widely hailed as one of the top up-and-coming talents at 135 pounds. A cousin of UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov and the older brother of Bellator champion Usman Nurmagomedov, the Dagestan native is a perfect 5-0 thus far in his UFC run and 17-0 in professional MMA since kicking off his career in 2016. Nurmagomedov scored a unanimous decision win over Bekzat Almakhan in his most recent outing in March.

“I thought it was good, I was actually just watching it last night,” Sandhagen said of that bout.

“That other dude doesn’t really know how to approach the certain type of grappler that Umar is, and obviously didn’t spend a lot of time on the feet at all, didn’t do a lot of the things that he typically does on the feet at all, probably because he got dropped real early. And yeah, that other guy honestly just didn’t have the right approach in the grappling, and I think it’s pretty straightforward. You just have to know how to fight those guys in the correct way on the ground and you’ll win. But if you do it wrong, they look really, really dominant.”

Sandhagen has long been one of the top-ranked bantamweights in the world and on a mission to capture a UFC belt. He’s won three straight bouts, defeating the likes of Song Yadong and Marlon Vera in addition to his Font win, and said UFC officials made it clear to him that his elusive first shot at undisputed gold against the winner of an anticipated title fight between Sean O’Malley and Merab Dvalishvili will likely be on the line when he squares off against Nurmagomedov.

“Hunter [Campbell] was telling me, he was like, ‘Look, I don’t know how it’s not you after this fight, after Merab and O’Malley fight.’ So yeah, when I talked to Hunter, that was relayed to me, that he doesn’t see a way that it’s not me after this one,” Sandhagen said.

Sandhagen added that his time on the sidelines has given him extra motivation to fulfill the vast potential he believes is inside of him. He said he’s had plenty of time to marinate on the realization that he’s reached the second half of his UFC career, and knows he only has “five to seven more years” left to be able to attain his goals. He’s eager to start on Aug. 3.

“I’m definitely not in a place where I want fights to go the distance,” Sandhagen said. “That’s one big thing that I’ve been working in this time off, is adding some power into [my strikes] and then adding some power into a couple of the submissions, that I can rip people apart. And I’m really getting that down really well. So I always go into a fight feeling really confident, but now I feel really confident and I feel like I can actually really cause a lot of hurt to someone, so that’s going to be fun for me to show everyone that new stuff.”

“I’m really, really motivated and inspired right now,” he added. “My entire goal in this sport has definitely been to be a world champion. But even on top of that, I want to be something unbelievable that no one’s ever seen in the fighting world. Like, I want to have unbelievable kickboxing paired with unbelievable wrestling paired with unbelievable jiu-jitsu, and I want to make it a better circle and more perfect than anyone has ever done it in the world, dare I say in history. But that’s always been my main goal. And I figure now that I have five years left, it definitely feels like, ‘Hey man, if you’re going to make this push [it starts now].’

“But really, man, my main word that I’ve been really using to motivate myself is, if you’re going to be unbelievable — like, I want to be unbelievable — if you’re going to be that, you don’t get to f*ck around for the next five years. And so it was nice to sit with that, understand, recalibrate my goals in a certain way, and really sit and understand what this back half of my UFC career is going to look like. And like I said, I’m really driven to be that unbelievable fighter that no one’s seen before. So I’m really motivated, man.”

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