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Sandhagen cruises past Vera in UFC San Antonio main event

Josh Hedges / UFC / Getty

Bantamweight is one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC, and Cory Sandhagen's name is now fully in the title conversation after a massive win over Marlon Vera.

Sandhagen outclassed "Chito" in their battle of top contenders, winning via split decision (47-48, 50-45, 49-46) in the UFC San Antonio main event on Saturday night.

The No. 5-ranked Sandhagen controlled almost the whole fight, making judge Joel Ojeda's 48-47 scorecard in favor of No. 3 Vera awfully puzzling. UFC president Dana White said it was "pretty scary" that the fight was a split decision.

Afterward, Sandhagen called for a title eliminator bout against No. 1-ranked bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili, who's coming off a main-event win over former champion Petr Yan earlier in March. Dvalishvili was cageside at the event alongside his friend and teammate, UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling.

"I would feel so slimy if I asked for a title shot before Merab," Sandhagen said in his postfight interview. "Merab is an absolute animal. I respect him a ton. I want that No. 1 spot. ... Merab, you're hungry. Well, I got something for you to eat. And it don't taste good."

Sandhagen outstruck Vera in all five rounds - and by a margin of 128-58 in significant strikes overall - and controlled him on the ground in multiple frames, scoring three takedowns on 12 attempts. One of the craftiest and most technical bantamweights in the UFC, Sandhagen stifled Vera's offense with his own constant attack of strikes and takedown attempts. Sandhagen's volume and movement played a major part in shutting down his opponent's entire game.

"I just couldn't get it started," Vera said in his postfight interview. "This one is on me. No excuses."

With the victory, Sandhagen has now won two in a row. He beat Song Yadong in a main event last September, returning to the win column after losing back-to-back fights against Yan - in an interim title fight - and TJ Dillashaw.

Though he's a top contender, Sandhagen will need at least one more victory before getting a title shot. Former two-division champion Henry Cejudo is scheduled to return from retirement and challenge Sterling for the title at UFC 288 in May. Then, Sean O'Malley, ranked No. 2, could face the winner later this year.

Vera, who was competing in his third straight main event, saw his four-fight winning streak end. He cemented himself as a contender by beating the likes of Dominick Cruz, Rob Font, and Frankie Edgar in 2021 and 2022. This was his first loss since facing Jose Aldo in December 2020.

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