Aggression and pressure was the name of the game for former two-time undisputed UFC bantamweight champion, T.J. Dillashaw tonight against the #2 rated contender, Cody Sandhagen — as he edged out the Aurora native with a close split decision (48-47 x2, and 47-48) victory to round out tonight’s UFC Vegas 32 card.
Headlining in his return to the Octagon, Angels Camp veteran, Dillashaw made his first trip under the UFC’s banner since January of 2019 — after he was informed of some “adverse findings” in a test-sample submitted to anti-doping agency, USADA. Upon the conclusion of an investigation, Dillashaw was slapped with a two-year retroactive suspension by the agency after he had returned a positive test result for the banned substance, erythropoietin (EPO).
Relinquishing his bantamweight championship as a result, tonight’s main event tilt was Dillashaw’s first since UFC Fight Night Brooklyn two years ago where he failed in his attempt to become a two-weight champion held simultaneously as he suffered a first round knockout loss to then flyweight champion, Henry Cejudo.
Returning at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada — Bang Muay Thai trainee, Dillashaw met with the surging Sandhagen, who had turned in two highlight-reel finishes as of late, in the form of a wheel kick knockout over one-time title chaser, Marlon Moraes, and a spectacular February flying-knee stoppage of former lightweight best, Frankie Edgar.
Tipped as a potential bantamweight title-eliminator, the victor between Sandhagen and Dillashaw was widely expected to challenge either reigning champion, Aljamain Sterling or incoming challenger, former champion, Petr Yan with a win — with the latter pairing expected to take place at UFC 267 on October 30. in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Pressuring early and often from the onset and throughout his five round headliner against Sandhagen, former two-time gold holder, Dillashaw returned to the winner’s enclosure with a split judging victory, although it wasn’t entirely plain sailing.
Suffering a sizeable laceration to his right eye, akin to a cut suffered back in May ahead of the originally scheduled pairing, Dillashaw was dropped in the second round by Elevation Fight Team mainstay, Sandhagen via a sweeping short left hook.
Assuming back control after dipping and evading strikes from Sandhagen, Dillashaw would consistently push the Colorado native to the fence where he would either ride out the remaining time in the round or accumulate time spent waining on Sandhagen’s back.
Following the victory, the first since a UFC 227 championship defending knockout win over former Team Alpha MMA teammate, Cody Garbrandt, Dillashaw voiced his interest in a title tilt against either Sterling or Yan but also remained willing to meet with another contender in the 135lbs division’s top-five in a bid to remain active.
The 35-year-old Californian adds Dillashaw to a professional résumé which contains prior victories over the likes of Cody Garbrandt (x2), John Lineker, Raphael Assuncao, Renan Barao (x2), and Joe Soto.