Unlike many fighters, there really isn’t any rhyme or reason why Cory Sandhagen decided to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. To hear the Colorado featherweight tell it, he just needed a way to burn off some energy.
“I was really active when I was a kid,” Sandhagen told Combat Press. “I did taekwondo, and I boxed a little bit. When I turned 17, I played basketball and I was pretty good at it. But then I stopped liking it, so I had to do something to get all that energy out.”
It was around this time that Sandhagen started watching MMA and other combat sports. He became a fan of boxer Manny Pacquiao and MMA fighters Dominick Cruz and José Aldo. Sandhagen looked around for gyms where he could train, and it just so happened that he lived near a gym owned by the recently retired Nate Marquardt. It wasn’t long after Sandhagen started training that he was signed up for various tournaments. He made his amateur MMA debut at the age of 19.
“The game is always changing,” Sandhagen said. “You look at guys like [boxer Vasyl] Lomachenko and [T.J.] Dillashaw, and it’s all about the movement game now. I take a lot of inspiration from them, but my team likes to mix in our own thing. I like to hit the body and legs a lot — you can really drill the legs in 15-minute MMA fights. Conor McGregor is also someone who’s really good at creating distance.”
Sandhagen went 4-1 as an amateur before turning pro in 2015. He went on to compile a 6-1 record on the regional MMA circuit. Sandhaged notched his first career knockout victory in his last fight in October. He also has two submission wins.
“I can beat everyone everywhere,” Sandhagen said. “But I just got my brown belt in jiu-jitsu, and I know I need to work more on my submissions and getting takedowns against the cage.”
Sandhagen’s last few fights have been for the former Resurrection Fighting Alliance and then the Legacy Fighting Alliance, which came out of the merger of the RFA with Legacy Fighting Championship. He described his first fight for the former RFA as his “scariest fight.”
“It was my first pro fight on TV,” Sandhagen said. “And it was my first real tough fight, and performing under the lights like that was a little overwhelming.”
Sandhagen’s first fight under the LFA banner came last year against Jamall Emmers. The fight resulted in his lone pro loss so far.
“Emmers had a lot of experience on me,” Sandhagen said. “He was the best wrestler I had fought against, and fighting against wrestlers sucks. When you get taken down by a wrestler, you know that’s basically the round, and [Emmers] was used to being in bigger fights.”
Sandhagen began visiting with a sports psychologist following his loss to Emmers to work on improving his focus. It’s been a tremendously helpful step, according to Sandhagen.
“The pressure of having my fight with Emmers be the co-main event might have gotten to me,” he said. “But I got into the zone with my sports psychologist and talking through what I’m going to do. I think everyone should do that.”
Sandhagen rebounded from his loss against Emmers with a first-round knockout at LFA 24. Now, he is scheduled to face the 2-0 José Aguayo at LFA 31 on Friday, Jan. 19. Aguayo is known to train with Nate and Nick Diaz, but that isn’t having any effect on Sandhagen’s preparation.
“The mindset stays the same,” he said. “I’m just going to focus on what I need to do to win, and I’m not thinking about him. He’s a lot like the Diaz brothers, but sloppier. I’m sure he’s tough and hard to beat, but he doesn’t have it all together yet. I’ve heard he has a good armbar, but I’m not too worried.”
Sandhagen now trains with the Elevation Fight Team in Colorado, which until recently was the exclusive home of UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. The gym recently ended its partnership with MusclePharm, Sandhagen said, but the partnership resulted in the gym becoming a “very consistent, close-knit group,” he said.
“We train every day together and joke around a lot,” Sandhagen said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie on this team. I want to be in the UFC this year, so I’m trying to get a couple more fights with LFA and get the title, and then go on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and then on to the UFC. I want to avoid burnout and really focus on just one thing at a time, but it’s my dream to have the UFC belt.”