On July the 24th, 2021. Two of the UFC’s most dangerous strikers will compete in what we expect to be a number one contender’s contest for the bantamweight championship. As old school meets new school, the long-awaited return of former bantamweight title holder TJ Dillashaw will meet the fast-rising UFC star Cory Sandhagen. Broadcasted live by ESPN from the UFC Apex Centre in Las Vegas, this main event will not be one you want to miss. 

TJ Dillashaw 

Since 2011, 35-year-old TJ Dillashaw has remained an all-eyes-on-me type of fighter after his Ultimate Fighter Season 14 debut had concluded. A 12-3 UFC record saw the Californian native win the bantamweight championship on two occasions, with a total of three successful title defences. He is currently tied with Dominick Cruz for the most successful consecutive bantamweight title defences in UFC history (2). He is also connected with Marlon Vera for the most stoppage wins in UFC bantamweight history (eight). But where did it all begin? 

Dillashaw’s route to a professional mixed martial arts career began on the wrestling mats. He competed on the wrestling team during high school, eventually joining the Titans wrestling program once he attended college. He became a 3X NCAA qualifier, competing in the Pac-10 Championships and Greco Wrestling Championships on multiple occasions. As most MMA connoisseurs know, NCAA Division 1 wrestlers have found great success when transitioning to mixed martial arts, and Dillashaw is an excellent example of this. 

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His path to the UFC began on the company’s Ultimate Fighter contest; reaching the final of season 14, he lost the bantamweight tournament final to John Dodson but had already impressed the UFC brass to earn himself a position on the roster. 

Dillashaw is most known for delivering one of the biggest upsets in UFC history when becoming a replacement fighter in a championship fight versus Renan Barao, and the best online bookies were heavily favouring the Brazilian champion to retain his title. But in true Dillashaw fashion, he put on an emphatic display, not only shocking the world but doing so in a dominating manner.  

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Many dramas have taken place between heated rivalries with Dom Cruz and Cody Garbrandt since Dillashaw’s first title success. He’s claimed the bantamweight championship a second time and even appeared in a Superfight for Henry Cejudo’s flyweight back in 2019, which was the last time we witnessed him compete. But one thing hasn’t changed throughout the years, Dillashaw’s fierce presence inside the octagon.  

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Cory Sandhagen 

29-year-old Cory Sandhagen doesn’t own the decorated MMA career like that of his opponent on July the 24th, but his martial arts presence has undoubtedly made an impact since his arrival to the UFC in 2018

Sandhagen boasts a record of 7-1 in the UFC, with five of those contests ending inside the distance. His only loss is to current bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling. Still, his seven victories are against former champions and title contenders such as John Lineker, Raphael Assuncao, Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar

Sandhagen’s most recent outing saw him finish former UFC champion, Frankie Edgar, with a flying knee in the first round. While TJ Dillashaw has been side-lined due to a USADA suspension, Sandhagen has competed on four occasions against elite-level competition. 

Fight of the Night, Performance of the Night, and knockout stoppages against the UFC’s upper echelon now put Colorado-born kickboxer in a position to make his stake at UFC gold. A victory over another former champion in TJ Dillashaw will surely grant Sandhagen his opportunity. 

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Sandhagen vs Dillashaw Preview & Prediction 

It’s never a confident move when putting faith behind a fighter coming off a two-year absence, and how much of Dillashaw’s drug testing makes a difference during his memorable fights? Is he reliant on these drugs, or was he inconveniently accused? This is a question that could be answered at UFC in Vegas 32, but when facing such a dangerous striker in Sandhagen, we have to believe that absence and lack of octagon activity will play its part.

Sandhagen enjoys a 5-foot 11′ stature in the bantamweight division, a height and reach advantage that’s heavily assisted his ability to gauge a distance read on the opposition. The best chance for Dillashaw to find success would probably be through his wrestling offence, which is easier said than done with powerful leg and knee strikes coming your way. 

A betting man should probably lay the money on Sandhagen; a precise striking offence and youthful durability should be enough to see off the ageing TJ Dillashaw. 

A martial artist and former coach for two decades from Houston, Texas. Specializing in the disciplines of kickboxing, karate, MMA, and Jiu Jitsu.