How would TJ Dillashaw fare after being away from the Octagon for 30 months due to a two-year suspension for a positive EPO test?
Dillashaw looked like the same fighter who became a two-time UFC bantamweight champion, defeating Cory Sandhagen via a gutsy split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47) at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
"I love Cory Sandhagen," Dillashaw told Daniel Cormier in his post-fight interview. "Great opponent, great fight, but I believe in myself. Pushed the pace, got the win."
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Dillashaw came out aggressive, stalking Sandhagen and looking for a big shot. Sandhagen had his back against the cage and delivered a flying knee. He flipped over Dillashaw and secured an inverted triangle choke. Dillashaw was getting the better of the striking, and then with a minute remaining, he took Sandhagen down. With time winding down, Dillashaw fired a series of ground and pound punches.
Before round two, Dillashaw told his corner that he hurt his knee at the end of the first. Dillashaw wasn't putting much pressure on the knee, and Sandhagen lit him up on the feet. Halfway through the round, Sandhagen dropped Dillashaw with a right hand. Dillashaw popped right up before Sandhagen could inflict any damage. An elbow from Sandhagen caused a massive gash over Dillashaw’s right eye.
Dillashaw stopped babying the knee and applied pressure to begin the third round. He clipped Sandhagen with a left hook and rushed to attempt a takedown but was unsuccessful. Instead, Sandhagen targeted Dillashaw’s eye and blasted a stiff jab and straight right hands to cause the blood to pour down his face. Next, Sandhagen tried for a spinning kick, and Dillashaw dumped him back down to the canvas. Sandhagen went for a takedown of his own, but Dillashaw stuffed it, pressed Sandhagen against the cage, and fired a combination.
Dillashaw touched up Sandhagen right from the outset of the fourth round. He was blasting leg kicks, right hands and then went for another takedown and pressed Sandhagen against the cage to sap the energy out of him. Sandhagen regained the momentum and picked Dillashaw apart with heavy shots to the damaged eye. Not letting the blood gushing down his eye and face deter him, Dillashaw dug down deep and continued to come forward with kicks and right hands to keep Sandhagen off of him.
Dillashaw started the fifth and final round with a series of leg kicks, and Sandhagen attacked Dillashaw’s eye with the right hand. Dillashaw took Sandhagen’s back and tripped him down, but Sandhagen jumped right up. Sandhagen kept going at the damaged eye, and it took its effect on Dillashaw. Dillashaw would miss a shot, and Sandhagen would blast him with a right hand. With a minute remaining, Dillashaw connected on a straight left, went for another takedown, and went back to grinding Sandhagen to the cage. Sandhagen ripped Dillashaw with a hard body shot. Dillashaw came back with a combination to close the show and secure a victory that could vault him into a title shot against the winner of the rematch between Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan that is expected to occur later in 2021.
"Daddy's getting that belt easy," Dillashaw said. "Easy money for that belt right now. Title fight as long as Yan and Sterling get their fight on pretty quick, I want the fight. Otherwise, I'll take someone else in the Top 5. I'm here to fight."
UFC Fight Night: Cory Sandhagen vs. TJ Dillashaw fight results
- T.J. Dillashaw def. Cory Sandhagen via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47)
- Raulian Paiva def. Kyler Phillips via majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28)
- Darren Elkins def. Darrick Minner via TKO at 3:48 of the second round
- Maycee Barber def. Miranda Maverick via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Adrian Yanez def. Randy Costa via TKO at 2:11 of the second round