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T.J. Dillashaw returns with split decision over Cory Sandhagen

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T.J. Dillashaw returns with split decision over Cory Sandhagen

T.J. Dillashaw made a triumphant return in his bout with Cory Sandhagen Saturday night, notching a split decision victory against the former #2 bantamweight contender.  Once again, the fight took place at the UFC Apex in front of a raucous crowd of 36 people.  These small venue fights feel like a weird hybrid of MTV Unplugged and the “elite only” attendance mansion fight scene from D’Jango Unchained.  You either like this format or you don’t, and you can include me in the strongly disapprove category. 

            There had been a lot of buildup to this fight as Dillashaw was coming off a 3 year hiatus.  You would think that a former champion returning would be met with positive fanfare, but this wasn’t the Meisha Tate lovefest from the previous week.  It’s hard to feel all warm and fuzzy when you take into account Dillashaw’s previous drama with Team Alpha Male and his blatant use of a serious PED.  But he’s back nonetheless, and overall it’s a good thing when someone with the name recognition of Dillashaw is thrust back into the mix.  He’s a villain, but a villain like Chael Sonnen.  One that you love to hate.

            There was a lot of controversy in the judges decision, which was par for the course on Saturday night.  Horrific decisions maligned the entire card, particularly the Miranda Maverick vs. Maycee Barber fiasco.  That was an offense to geometry and theology, and those judges should never work in the state of Nevade again.  But I thought the main event decision was pretty accurate.  I actually had Dillashaw 49-46.  I’m sure that will raise the ire of many, but let’s break it down a bit and I will explain how I saw it. 

            In round 1 Sandhagen was moving around very well, and it was obvious what Dillashaw’s game plan for the night was going to be.  Gravity is an evil mistress for Dillashaw so forward pressure and taking away space was going to be heavy on the menu.  Sandhagen was able to land some decent shots moving backward, but Dillashaw landed more.  When the fight hit the ground Sandhagen hooked up an ashi garami on a standing Dillashaw, looking for a leg lock.  This was a debatable strategy, but an aggressive approach that you have to admire.  Admirable, but mistaken.  Sandhagen ate a lot of damage on the bottom, but it appeared that he injured Dillashaw’s knee toward the end of the round.  We will find out just how bad that injury was in the following days, but regardless, it wasn’t enough to end the fight.  10-9 T.J.

            Round 2 was Sandhagen’s best round.  He hit T.J. with everything but the kitchen sink, outstriking him 37-20 and opening up a really bad vertical cut on T.J.’s eyebrow. The placement of the cut, and the depth, were in one of the worst places you could have as a fighter.  Somewhere in the background I could hear Jim Ross shouting “CRIMSON MASK, CRIMSON MASK”.  I thought that Sandhagen might win via finish, but T.J. initiated a clinch against the fence for the last third of the round which let him survive and let his cutman stop the bleeding.  10-9 Sandhagen.

            Round 3 saw some really good low kicks from T.J. which really hurt the movement of Sandhagen.  Another steady diet of clinch and fence control, compounded with an idiotic spinning heel kick attempt by Sandhagen leading to a takedown allowed T.J. to eek out this round in my eyes.  10-9 Dillashaw.

            Round 4 saw more clinch and fence control by T.J. and an edge in striking 35-28.  I think many people thought Sandhagen may have won this round, because he did land a really sweet spinning backfist toward the end of the round.  But the overall numbers went to T.J.  I think you could have given this round to either fighter, but I gave a slight edge to Dillashaw 10-9.

            The final round was a slobberknocker as each fighter went for broke.  A combined 78 significant strikes were absorbed by the 2 men, bringing this instant classic to a close.  I thought that once again, the clinch and takedown late in the round by T.J. was enough to give him the edge 10-9.

            For the folks and the one judge who sided with Sandhagen, I understand where you’re coming from and you have a valid point.  It all boils down to what you think is effective in fighting.  There is no arguing the fact that T.J. dominated cage control.  Now if you think that should score points is another matter.  T.J. didn’t do any real damage in this position, but he did impose his will in these scenarios and he stopped his opponent from executing any offense whatsoever.  Boring as watching paint dry?  Yes.  Effective?  Also a yes.  Personally I think this was the difference in the fight and the difference between winning and losing.  Arguing if this should be rewarded and if it’s good for the sport of MMA can be saved for another day.

            In the end there were no real losers in this match.  Sandhagen had a great showing and shouldn’t drop far in the rankings.  I can definitely see him fighting for the strap in the near future.  And it can be argued that a controversial split decision loss in a war against a superstar former champ is worth more than a win over a guy like Rob Font, who isn’t really known outside of true hardcore fight fans.  T.J. won not only the fight, but he also regained a bit of respect, completely owning up to the fact that he took EPO and didn’t use some BS excuse like “tainted supplements” or “horse meat” or “Mexican cows” caused him to test positive.  And most importantly we as fans win, as we have 4 legit fighters at the top of the bantamweight division that will slug it out in the next year.  Get your popcorn ready.  

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