Currently sitting at No. 2 in the division behind only Aljamain Sterling, who is about to compete for the 135-pound title in March, Sandhagen knew he was going to have to face somebody else in the division before hopefully earning his own chance to vie for UFC gold.
Initially, Sandhagen, 28, asked for former champion T.J. Dillashaw. The two-time bantamweight champion just recently received clearance to return to action after a two-year suspension for a violation of the UFC’s anti-doping policy. Instead, Sandhagen drew Frankie Edgar, a former lightweight champion that just recently debuted with a win at bantamweight following a back-and-forth war against Pedro Munhoz.
While Dillashaw may have been the higher profile opponent, Sandhagen didn’t express a single bit of disappointment to see Edgar’s name on the other end of his contract.
“Honestly, they both keep me in the conversation big time,” Sandhagen told MMA Fighting. “I think obviously T.J. was a little bit of a bigger name in the division right now. He’s still in his prime. That was something that would have been a huge benefit but fighting Frankie Edgar is also no joke. I know he got knocked out a couple times at featherweight before, and it’s really easy to write the guy off, but if you look at his last fight against [Pedro] Munhoz, he did an awesome job. He looked great.
“He didn’t look like a 38-year-old guy fighting however-old Pedro Munhoz is. He looked really good in that fight. I think this sport is really tough when you lose because everyone just assumes, or it’s really easy to write you off, and I think that’s what happened with Edgar. But I think that he’s still really, really good, and I think he can still beat me if I let that happen.”
Edgar has built the kind of resume that almost any fighter on Earth would dream about when starting a career in the UFC.
He’s a former UFC lightweight champion, a multi-time title contender in the featherweight division and now he’s ranked in the top-five at bantamweight after only a single fight in the division. Edgar has earned eight Fight of the Night awards and he’s spent more time in the UFC octagon — over 7 hours and 40 minutes — than any other fighter in the history of the promotion.
Edgar has also competed at the top of three different divisions with a UFC career that stretches back nearly 14 years, which is an accomplishment all by itself.
That’s why as much as Sandhagen hopes to win a UFC title one day, he’s not lost on the magnitude of what it means to face and hopefully defeat a legend like Edgar.
“I think that the sport is a really tough mental game if you’re solely focused on this winning the belt thing over and over again,” Sandhagen explained. “I’ve seen it in the past with some guys who are really good but they never got their shot or got hurt or the stars never lined up or the UFC just never gave them a shot. That will drive you crazy if that’s where you put a lot of your mental energy.
“So I try to put my mental energy into things I have more control over and one of those things is collecting as many scalps as I can and adding to the resume as much as I can. I would really like to add a future Hall of Famer to the resume of guys that I’ve beaten. That’s a motivator in this fight for sure. I’m excited to see how I do against somebody that’s that good.”
While Edgar’s career stacks up to almost anybody who’s ever competed in the UFC, he’s still going to walk into his fight against Sandhagen as a decided underdog.
The Colorado native is well aware of that fact because he believes Edgar is a better fighter when he’s being counted out, which is why he’s looking at this fight as the most important of his career to date.
“In the last fight, when I was listening to him talk, he fights really good with a chip on his shoulder,” Sandhagen said. “Because he brought it against Munhoz. That was one of his better fights.
“As far as his career, the guy is a future Hall of Famer probably. I think when you’re in the sport long enough, you start to realize for a guy to have this long of a career and to find that kind of success, especially for me as a younger guy in the sport and not as much experience, when you look at Frankie for him to do what he’s done in his career and for him to still be around and to still get a win over a top-10 guy and still competing with the best guys in the world with how long he’s been doing it — that’s for real and that’s to be taken seriously.”