TJ Dillashaw makes his long-awaited return to the cage this Saturday night when he faces #2 bantamweight contender Cory Sandhagen in the main event of UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs. Dillashaw on ESPN+.
Dillashaw, a former two-time UFC bantamweight champion, is set to make his first in-cage appearance since January 2019. On that night, he was defeated by Henry Cejudo in just 32 seconds and his attempt at becoming a two-division champion was unsuccessful.
But the most significant story coming out of that event was Dillashaw’s positive pre and post-fight tests for erythropoietin (EPO). Dillashaw was handed a two-year suspension after testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug and now is set to return and claw his back to a shot at the UFC Bantamweight Championship.
But Cory Sandhagen stands in the way. Sandhagen is arguably one of the most talented fighters in the 135-pound division and steps into this fight after a fantastic flying knee knockout against Frankie Edgar in February. That made it two in a row for Sandhagen following his knockout victory again Marlon Moraes before then and helped Sandhagen get back on track after losing to current champion Aljamain Sterling via first-round rear-naked choke in June 2020.
Cory Sandhagen vs. TJ Dillashaw betting odds
- Cory Sandhagen: -200
- TJ Dillashaw: +160
The returning former champion is a betting underdog in this five-round main event bout. Sandhagen’s impressive last performances see him now enter this fight as a moderate betting favorite.
Here’s an example of how to interpret the Sandhagen vs. Dillashaw odds:
- A successful $100 bet on Sandhagen to win returns $150
- A successful $100 bet on Dillashaw to win returns $260
So, who are we picking to win this bantamweight clash on Saturday night?
Braeden Arbour and Michael Pounders shared their detailed analysis ahead of the fight down below. Continue reading for our Sandhagen vs. Dillashaw staff predictions.
Cory Sandhagen vs. TJ Dillashaw predictions
A lot of questions regarding TJ Dillashaw require answering in this fight. According to Dillashaw, his recent drug suspension for EPO was a product of needing a weight cut aid in his move to flyweight. However, speculations have also arisen among his former training camp that his long-used and high-paced style always needed something extra to back it up.
With that in mind, coming into his fight with Cory Sandhagen, it is the first time we can say without a doubt that TJ Dillashaw will be competing completely clean. He is one of the most technical and dynamic fighters to ever grace the octagon, but whether or not he will have the conditioning and pacing to back it now remains to be seen. Coming off a loss prior to his suspension also puts Dillashaw in a position where he needs to re-prove himself and re-enter the rankings.
The unpredictable fighter we came to expect is a master of switching stance and utilizing the full arsenal of mixed martial arts. He will often show his opponents one look in an orthodox stance and then attack on the switch in order to break his opponent’s groove. He will also stutter step into range and blast the high kick behind his boxing from a low stance. One of the way’s which he sets this kick up is dipping off to the left and swinging the wide kick over his opponent’s shoulder.
The most dangerous position which Cory Sandhagen must avoid is getting caught stagnant against the fence. TJ Dillashaw is a master of picking apart fighters against the cage with versatile boxing, and he also holds a distinct advantage in the wrestling department.
With a five-inch height and a three-inch reach advantage, Sandhagen should remain moving and work Dillashaw from the outside. Often, Sandhagen will force his opponents to commit to a direction and cut it off with a lightning-fast strike. In his fight with Frankie Edgar, using his range he forced Edgar to explode forward into his flying knee. He will also often circle and force his foes to move laterally into his spinning techniques.
Dillashaw at times has fought emotionally, both against Dominick Cruz and Cody Garbrandt. In the prior, after finding Cruz was outlanding him in the fifth round, he committed to throwing one strike at a time looking for the knockout. Against Garbrandt, after being rocked in the first, also resigned himself to trying to “get it back” with one big shot.
If Cory can bring Dillashaw to this place by using his reach advantage and sticking to his movement, I think he can open up Dillashaw’s defense and land the strikes he needs. TJ, although never put out cold, has been rocked or dropped in each one of his last three fights and Sandhagen’s finishing ability is devastating. I believe there are also too many questions surrounding how TJ will look in relation to his last fight over two years ago, and Sandhagen will enter the fight composed and confident, riding the momentum of his last two wins.
Prediction: Cory Sandhagen by knockout
On Saturday night, TJ Dillashaw is hoping to emulate Andy Dufresne and begin his own redemption story. Once as dominant as he was popular in the UFC, the former bantamweight champion has fallen from grace after being suspended for two years for using EPOs. On the other side of the octagon, Sandhagen has been a tear since losing to the (controversial) champion, Aljamain Sterling. After facing defeat for only the second time in his career, Sandhagen bounced back with two quick, violent, and viral KOs to put him back in the title contention conversation. The undeniable talent, but questions surrounding Dillashaw, and the hot streak of Sandhagen create a nebulous but exciting matchup headed into Saturday night.
When handicapping a cloudy contest, for clarity, I like to examine paths to victory. Dillashaw is likely going to rely on his wrestling, which is elite, to drown Sandhagen into deep waters. That path will be taxing, debilitating, and exhausting. At 16-4, Dillashaw not only used to wrestle his opponent to death and then hunt the finish; but, he used to be one of the best to ever do it. However, after getting popped for PEDs, coming off a 2-year layoff where he had shoulder surgery, and now 35-years-old, I don’t know if Dillashaw still has the cardio to go five rounds with the energy and violence UFC fans are accustomed to. Moreover, Dillashaw’s Achilles heel, even in his prime was his durability. He’s been KO’d twice and dropped several times during his career. Dillashaw will have to show grit, heart, and his old wrestling chops if he hopes to start his redemption story with a win.
Looking to secure his third win in a row, Sandhagen will need to show improved grappling as he has struggled against wrestlers in the past, only holding a 30% takedown defense. That spells trouble when facing such an accredited and dedicated wrestler. However, despite being taken down more often than he, and his supporters, would prefer, he is defensively sound when on the mat—only submitted once and has never been KO’d. Additionally, anyone shooting for a takedown needs to be wary of the devastating knees of “Sandman,” which he throws right up the middle and can turn the lights out on a careless wrestler. With the distinct height and reach advantage, the ability to pepper Dillashaw with impeccable accuracy, and the power to end the fight at any moment, Sandhagen has more paths to victory than his adversary.
Sandhagen might get taken down and lose a round or even two; but, I think Dillashaw’s durability, and, possibly, cardio issues will eventually do him in. There are too many questions around TJ and too many methods of victory for Sandhagen to have me go any other way. My prediction is Sandhagen will do what Warden Samuel Norton couldn’t—stop the redemption before it begins. For extra value, I like Sandhagen by KO.
Prediction: Sandhagen to win