We have some great bantamweight match ups this weekend on UFC 250’s main card, one of which is between the No. 2 ranked bantamweight contender Aljamain ‘Funk Master’ Sterling and the No. 4 ranked Cory ‘The Sandman’ Sandhagen. These two are quite similar in styles, which makes for a very intriguing fight. Sterling has been in the UFC quite a bit longer than Sandhagen, making his debut in 2014, while Sandhagen made his debut just over two years ago in 2018.
The winner of this fight almost certainly fights the winner of Jose Aldo versus Petr Yan, a vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship fight going down later this year. Many people argue this should be the title fight, and that’s hard to argue.
‘Funk Master’ has been a prodigy of sorts since he came to the UFC, going 4-0 with three finishes in his first four fights. He then lost two in a row to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao, both split decisions that could’ve easily gone his way, before rebounding with two unanimous decision victories. Sterling’s next fight came against Marlon Moraes, where he was knocked out at just 1:07 of round one.
Since then, Sterling has gone on another four-fight win streak, defeating the likes of Brett Johns, Cody Stamann, Jimmie Rivera, and Pedro Munhoz. Johns was undefeated at 15-0 when Sterling fought him (3-0 UFC), Stamann was 17-1 (3-0 UFC), as well as 19-1 as an amateur, Rivera was 22-2 (6-1 UFC), only losing to Moraes himself inside the octagon. Last up is Munhoz, who had just KO’d Cody Garbrandt and was 7-1 in his last eight, with that one loss coming via split decision, and having finished five of those wins. All four of them have also won multiple belts outside the UFC. That’s a pretty impressive resume to have four straight wins over talents like that.
‘The Sandman’ quickly assumed a 5-0 record inside the UFC since January 2018, and the names he adds to his list get more impressive each time he fights. He made his UFC debut against Austin Arnett at 145 lbs, finishing him via TKO in round two, being the only man to ever finish him with strikes. That’s pretty insane, Arnett is a good striker himself, and he’s a big featherweight.
Next Sandhagen fought UFC veteran Iuri Alcantara, and while he almost got submitted by the elite BJJ black belt multiple times in round one, he kept his composure and got the TKO finish in round two. Sandhagen was then scheduled to fight Thomas Almeida, and then John Lineker after Almeida pulled out, but Lineker pulled out as well, and Sandhagen fought promotional newcomer Mario Bautista. He defeated Bautista via armbar in round one in a very impressive performance. Bautista has gone on to win his only two fights since his defeat, one of them being a flying knee knockout over highly touted prospect Miles Johns.
Sandhagen was then rescheduled against Lineker, and he defeated him via split decision. It was a close fight, but Sandhagen did out-strike him in rounds one and two, and only got out-struck in round three by one strike. He also scored two takedowns, as opposed to Lineker’s one. Sandhagen’s last fight came against longtime bantamweight top contender Raphael Assuncao, and this was another great performance by ‘The Sandman’, he won the fight via unanimous decision.
Sandhagen also won a title outside of the UFC, as did Sterling. ‘The Sandman’ is the former SCL Featherweight Champion, a title he vacated, and ‘Funk Master’ is the former Ring of Combat Bantamweight Champion, as well as the former CFFC Bantamweight Champion. Sterling also vacated both of his titles, and he defended his CFFC title three times, winning it via five round unanimous decision, and scoring a finish in each of his three defenses.
Aljamain Sterling (18-3) vs. Cory Sandhagen (12-1)
This is such an incredible match up because both of these elite bantamweights are very similar, but they also have differences. They both throw a very wide array of strikes, but Sandhagen throws more punches than Sterling, and Sterling throws more kicks than Sandhagen, generally speaking. Sandhagen mixes some beautiful flying knees in there, where Sterling doesn’t so much. They’re both incredibly active with their strikes as well, neither of them ever take breaks. They both have great footwork, they both switch stances, and they’re both very well rounded.
It’s certainly safe to say that Sterling has the better wrestling, having wrestled for an NCAA Division III college. He started wrestling during his first year of high school, and the only reason he wasn’t able to go to an NCAA Division I college was because of his grades. ‘Funk Master’ was a two-time NCAA Division III All-American, and he finished his collegiate wrestling career with a record of 87-27.
Sandhagen isn’t a wrestler. He’s not bad at it, he’s very well rounded, but he has been taken down in each of his five UFC fights. Sterling is incredibly skilled at mixing his takedowns up with his striking, and he’s one of the best MMA grapplers in the entire sport. Just watch his fight with Cody Stamann where he submitted him with a Suloev stretch, or perhaps his fight with Bryan Caraway, another one of the sports best MMA grapplers. That means they can blend their BJJ and wrestling attacks on just about anyone they’re locked in there with.
Both of these men are ranked in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well; Sterling boasts a black belt, and Sandhagen boasts a brown belt. If this fight hits the mat at any point, which it probably will, it’ll be very interesting to see how it plays out. It’ll also be interesting to see how it plays out on the feet, they’re both so good at striking. Sandhagen is one of the best in the entire sport at switching stances while throwing effective offense. It’s reminiscent of TJ Dillashaw or Max Holloway, he’s just so effective with it.
Chances are though, Sterling may be the more well rounded fighter, given his wrestling background and the great striking he has as well. We’ll have to tune in to find out! Lastly is their dimensions, how they physically match up together. Sterling has more muscle and is likely the stronger party of the two, and they both have a 71” reach, despite Sandhagen being 5’11”, four inches taller than Sterling.
Who takes this epic bantamweight match up this weekend at UFC 250?