All things considered, Saturday’s main event between TJ Dillashaw and Cory Sandhagen is the best UFC Fight Night headliner so far this year.
For me, there are only two others that even come close in terms of significance, stylistic matchup and prefight narrative: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum in April and Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar in January. Those fights featured former champions, were competitive fights on paper and carried high stakes.
But frankly, Dillashaw (16-4) vs. Sandhagen (14-2) blows both out of the water. It’s got everything you’d want in a five-round main event.
There are a million questions surrounding Dillashaw, a former bantamweight champion coming off a two-year drug suspension in one of the worst doping cases the UFC has seen since it partnered with the United States Anti-Doping Agency in 2015. Dillashaw was a legitimate No. 1 pound-for-pound candidate when last seen in 2019. He surrendered his title due to the suspension.
Much of Dillashaw’s lasting legacy will depend on how this comeback goes. If he looks like the fighter he once was, it will be easier for history to write off his failed drug test as a one-time mistake. If he doesn’t — even though there’s evidence in support of him being clean throughout the rest of his career — history will not be so kind in judging his accomplishments.
And across the Octagon from Dillashaw will be Sandhagen, one of the hottest emerging title contenders in any division in the UFC. The 29-year-old is coming off back-to-back knockouts over Marlon Moraes (a onetime UFC title challenger) and Frankie Edgar (a former UFC champion).
There’s also intrigue in the fact these two trained with one another, extensively, less than five years ago in Colorado. Not to mention, the winner will likely get a title shot next.
It’s the nature of the business: Some UFC Fight Nights are going to be stronger than others. The main event this weekend? Frankly, it doesn’t get much better.
The fights are on ESPN and ESPN+, with the main card starting at 7 p.m. ET and the prelims at 4 p.m.
By the numbers
918: Days it will have been, on fight night, since Dillashaw last stepped inside the Octagon. Prior to his USADA suspension, Dillashaw had never been idle for more than a year between fights.
28: Seconds it took Sandhagen to win his last fight, with the KO of Frankie Edgar in February being the second-fastest flying knee finish ever in the UFC, behind only Jorge Masvidal‘s five-second win over Ben Askren in 2019. It was the sixth-fastest knockout in UFC men’s bantamweight history.
12: Wins by Dillashaw in the UFC, the most in men’s bantamweight history. He has not lost a fight at 135 pounds since Jan. 17, 2016 — over two years before Sandhagen debuted in the UFC.
4: Stoppage wins by Sandhagen in the UFC, tying him for the second most in the men’s bantamweight division since he made his Octagon debut in 2018. Sandhagen has six wins overall in that time, tied for third most in the division.
2-0: Dillashaw’s record as a betting underdog in the UFC. He is at +155 vs. Sandhagen (-180), who is 6-0 as a favorite in the Octagon.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Five vs. five
Cory Sandhagen’s most recent results
Win: Frankie Edgar (KO1, Feb. 6, 2021; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Marlon Moraes (TKO2, Oct. 10, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Aljamain Sterling (Sub1, June 6, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Raphael Assunção (UD, Aug. 17, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: John Lineker (SD, April 27, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
TJ Dillashaw’s most recent results
Loss: Henry Cejudo (TKO1, Jan. 19, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Cody Garbrandt (KO1, Aug. 4, 2018; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Cody Garbrandt (KO2, Nov. 4, 2017)
Win: John Lineker (UD, Dec. 30, 2016)
Win: Raphael Assunção (UD, July 9, 2016)
And the winner is …
“Interesting fight,” said UFC bantamweight Raphael Assunção, who has fought both men. “I can break it down 1,000 different ways here. But to simplify the process, I’ve just got to go straight to the point: Sandhagen, that’s a big boy. He’s big for the weight class. TJ has good movement, so he’ll probably try to utilize that. He’s got some pretty good fast-twitch muscles. I presume he still moves pretty good. He will need to move against Sandhagen.”
Check out how Assunção and other experts break down the main event and predict a winner.
How to watch the fights
Watch on ESPN or ESPN+. Download the ESPN App | WatchESPN | TV schedule
Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access. Don’t have ESPN+? Get it here.
There’s also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
Saturday’s fight card
ESPN/ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
Cory Sandhagen vs. TJ Dillashaw | Men’s bantamweight
Kyler Phillips vs. Raulian Paiva | Men’s bantamweight
Darren Elkins vs. Darrick Minner | Men’s featherweight
Miranda Maverick vs. Maycee Barber | Women’s flyweight
Mickey Gall vs. Jordan Williams | Welterweight
ESPN/ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET
Punahele Soriano vs. Brendan Allen | Middleweight
Nassourdine Imavov vs. Ian Heinisch | Middleweight
Randy Costa vs. Adrian Yanez | Men’s bantamweight
Julio Arce vs. Andre Ewell | Men’s bantamweight
Sijara Eubanks vs. Elise Reed | Women’s flyweight
Diana Belbita vs. Hannah Goldy | Strawweight
Four more things you should know (from ESPN Stats & Info)
1. A key undercard bout features a pair of up-and-coming flyweights. Miranda Maverick, 24, enters on a seven-fight winning streak, while 23-year-old Maycee Barber is coming off two straight losses after starting her MMA career 8-0 and her UFC career 3-0.
2. Kyler Phillips, who is 3-0 in the UFC men’s bantamweight division, takes on Raulian Paiva, who is making his 135-pound debut after going 2-2 as a UFC flyweight and missing weight prior to his last fight. Paiva was scheduled for another flyweight bout after that, but was pulled from the May event because of issues with his weight cut.
3. The featured bout of the prelims pits unbeaten middleweight Punahele Soriano against Brendan Allen. Seven of Soriano’s eight wins have ended by first-round stoppage. Allen is 4-1 since making his UFC debut in 2019, with three wins coming via stoppage. That ties him for the second most in the 185-pound division over that time.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight preview.