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After ‘ugly’ loss, Cory Sandhagen using UFC on ESPN+ 37 to prove he’s ‘championship-level’

ABU DHABI – Compared to his previous outing, Cory Sandhagen hopes a more positive result comes out of his UFC on ESPN+ 37 main event clash with Marlon Moraes.

Sandhagen (12-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) most recently competed at UFC 250 in June against fellow top bantamweight contender Aljamain Sterling. In what was pegged by many as a No. 1 contender fight, Sandhagen was submitted in 88 seconds.

“You know how I approach these things,” Sandhagen told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at Wednesday’s UFC on ESPN+ 38 media day. “I approach it a little more like an artist. That was a really ugly painting. I want to show everyone what I’m actually capable of, so I’m excited to do that.”

Throughout MMA history, fighters have occasionally labeled quick losses as “flukes,” but not Sandhagen. Although he felt lethargic on fight night, he’s reviewed the defeat and has learned from it – even though it was so quick.

“I’m definitely not just writing it off,” Sandhagen said. “There’s a reason that things happen like that – especially something like that where I know I’m not that bad of a grappler. It’s like, something else was going on. I’ve been kind of hesitant to call it because I don’t want it to seem like an excuse, you know? But I wasn’t a good enough fighter on that night to know where I am capable of performing at a high level as far as where my intensity needs to be.”

If he ever questioned his worth as a top UFC contender, Sandhagen’s concerns were alleviated with his UFC on ESPN+ 37 booking. Despite the coming off a loss, Sandhagen was matched against top contender Moraes (23-6-1 MMA, 5-2 UFC) in a five-round bantamweight headliner.

“I thought they were either going to brush me off or they were going to give me another opportunity,” Sandhagen said. “I’m grateful they’re giving me another opportunity. They still see some stock in me and I just feel really grateful for that.”

If he defeats Moraes, Sandhagen expects to solidify his spot as one of the promotion’s best 135-pounders. The win will move him one step closer to his ultimate goal: a UFC title fight.

“I think Marlon gets a lot of respect – at least he gets a lot of respect from me,” Sandhagen said. “I think he gets a lot of respect from other fighters and the fans as well. I think me having the performance I foresee in my head is going to really solidify me. …

“I’m still a championship-level fighter. I still think I can be the best. You just have to be the best on the night you have to be the best, which is easier said than done. So, no, I plan on taking that 16-hour flight home and going home as the No. 1 contender.”

UFC on ESPN+ 37 takes place Saturday at Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The event streams on ESPN+.

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