No matter who you are and no matter what you do, this is the question that every human has to ask themselves countless times. In fact, there are decades of research, publications and websites that try to answer as many of those questions as possible, but when it comes to the internal human condition, sometimes the person himself cannot even answer that one, not-so-simple question.
Mixed martial artist Cory Sandhagen asked himself why he does what he does after his first and only professional loss in February 2017. After going on a 5-0 run over less than two years, Sandhagen faced Jamall Emmers on the Legacy Fighting Alliance 5 card. Not only did Emmers pick up the decision, but he did it in front of Sandhagen’s hometown crowd. So, why does Sandhagen do what he does?
“I had, like, a little existential crisis as to why this mattered to me so much,” Sandhagen told Combat Press. “After I lost my first fight about a year and a half ago, I had to go through that process, because I really hate losing. Even in practice, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I put a lot of work into this. When I have a shitty practice, or when I have a shitty fight, it really does not sit well with me, and it’s one of the things that sets me apart. I guess it’s a little bit of a negative thing, but it’s definitely made me the caliber of fighter that I am. When I lost in February, that hurt really, really bad. I had to ask myself if I was willing to feel that way and feel like such a loser again for the sake of my love of this sport. The conclusion that I came to is that I don’t really know.
“Picasso was a painter, because Picasso was put on this planet to paint. I think that I’m here to do the same thing. I was put on the planet because this is what I excel at. This is my art. I look at it a lot differently than a lot of these guys. I don’t just go out and brawl. I try to make this a work of art. I try to make it as pretty as I can, and not everyone sees it that way. I don’t know why Picasso painted, and I don’t know why I fight. It’s just where my life is, and this is where I’m supposed to be.”
So, where is he?
Sandhagen trains out of Elevation Fight Team under the tutelage of ex-MMA fighters and an NCAA Division I champion. His team includes Eliot Marshall, David Zabriskie, Cody Donovan, Christian Allen and Sean Madden. After bringing his pro record to 7-1 with a one-minute knockout win at LFA 31 on Jan. 19, Sandhagen immediately got the call to fight on short notice at UFC on Fox 27 a week later, where he picked up a second-round knockout over Austin Arnett. He never skipped a beat.
“Actually, I didn’t even think about it [being short notice],” Sandhagen explained. “Winning the fight was cool, but the second the UFC called me and said they wanted me to fight the next week, I completely forgot about it. I had a nice dinner with my coaches and a couple friends from out of town. We celebrated after that fight, and on Saturday, when we flew home, it was like, ‘Alright, we are doing this again this weekend.’”
The win over Arnett put Sandhagen at 1-0 in the UFC only 20 months after he made his pro debut. This is the beginning of a potentially meteoric rise.
“The motivation I didn’t think would play such a factor,” Sandhagen said. “But, now that I’m there — I didn’t think I’d be more motivated, but I’m much more motivated to get the ball rolling to be up there in the next couple years. Hopefully, I’ll be in the top 10 next year, and, hopefully, I’ll be the champ in the next two to three years.
“It’s more mental, which, I guess, has made it also more physical, too. I’m trying to hit more practices during the week. Even after the fight, I didn’t really take any time off. I broke my thumb, but I was still in the gym, learning to get better and using just my left hand. It’s just been adding in more practices and being extremely disciplined about everything. Overall, I’m getting much, much better.”
While Sandhagen picked up the win in his last outing, he wasn’t entirely happy with the performance. As a very intelligent guy, both inside and outside of the cage, he definitely picked up some lessons in the outing.
“I got a little complacent at one point, because there was a point when I knew 100 percent for sure that I was going to finish this guy bad,” Sandhagen said. “That got me a little complacent and got me hit a couple times. I don’t really like to get hit at all in any of my fights. I’ve been working on not taking my foot off the gas with my training partners and things like that, because that’s an area that I need to work on a bit. If I’m beating someone up, I need to completely destroy them in that round, which is something I’ve been working on. I want to get away from that complacency in future fights.”
The Colorado native will finally have a chance to showcase his improvements in Lincoln, Neb. On Saturday night, he faces veteran Iuri Alcantara at UFC Fight Night 135. The bantamweights serve as the second-to-last fight on the Fox Sports 2 preliminary card, and it’s only a six and a half hour drive from his home in the Denver area.
Alcantara has had a long and storied career. With 45 pro fights spanning 15 years, he has been all over the place. The Brazilian has also been a consistent fixture on the UFC roster for seven years, earning four “of the Night” accolades along the way. After back-to-back losses in the latter half of 2017, he got back in the win column with a first-round knockout of Joe Soto in February.
“Honestly, I don’t know too much about him,” Sandhagen admitted. “I recognize his face, but I haven’t watched a lot of tape on him. I think it’s silly to watch too much tape on someone when you’re far out from the fight, because opponents switch all the time, and I don’t want to get too set in a style of fighting and then have to change it. My coaches have watched him, and we’ve been working on certain things.
“He’s a [Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu] black belt, which is cool. The jiu-jitsu game has changed a lot though, as far as attacking the legs and things like that go, so I don’t know how well equipped he is with those things. I know he’s a hard-hitting southpaw, which is good. He gets a little bit tired in his fights, which I will be able to capitalize on. I’m really excited to have this fight. I know he’s a big name. When I tell people who I’m fighting, almost everybody knows who he is. I think this will be a really good opportunity for me to show off my style of striking.”
Sandhagen’s style is an interesting one. It is about as unique as Picasso’s paintings. He’s elusive, he moves well, and when he strikes, damage is done. His foray into fighting came at High Altitude Martial Arts, where his current coaches Allen and Donovan are both BJJ black belts, as is the aforementioned Marshall. Sandhagen is an all-around mixed martial artist, and he is definitely a top prospect in the UFC’s 135-pound division. With the current changing of the guard that’s taking place, Sandhagen could cement his place in the promotion with a win over Alcantara.
“I’m just dynamic,” said Sandhagen. “Me and my coaches have this sport down — I don’t want to say to a science — but, in a way, where it’s extremely efficient and it’s extremely adaptable and it’s really fun to watch. I really think when people see the movement and how I can go without getting hit for long stints and pick away at the person I’m fighting — I try to pitch shutouts — it can still be really exciting. I want to show that fighting isn’t just punching people in the face. Fighting is also keeping yourself safe, and it can be just as much a beautiful art as it can be a brutal art.”
So, why does Sandhagen do this? Why does he get out of bed every morning and train to fight, instead of being an accountant or a firefighter? Well, that’s why he’s here, plain and simple. This is his talent in life. On Saturday night, he will walk into the UFC’s patented Octagon for the second time to show the world his art.