Cory Sandhagen seeking ‘famous guy leverage’ like Umar Nurmagomedov receives from UFC

On paper, Cory Sandhagen knew fighting Umar Nurmagomedov really made no sense.

When the bout was announced as a main event of the UFC Nashville card this past August, Sandhagen was already cemented near the top of the bantamweight division. Nurmagomedov, on the other hand, was only four fights into his UFC career and didn’t hold a significant win over anybody ranked in the top 15 in the world.

Still, Sandhagen signed to take the fight and it was Nurmagomedov who ultimately dropped off the card due to injury. Now, months removed from that situation, Sandhagen admits he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about taking the fight against the 16-0 prospect, and it doesn’t appear to be a matchup he’s seeking to re-book any time soon.

“The Umar one was a little bit of a tough one,” Sandhagen explained on The MMA Hour. “I was playing ball for the UFC, giving him a shot when he’s only four fights into his career and the guy pulls out of more fights than he’s been in. That’s just the truth of the matter.

“When you’re talking like, ‘Hey, I make a lot of money for these fights, these fights are really important and he pulls out of a lot of fights,’ that’s a little bit of a tough sell for me — and also, he’s way, way down in the rankings. I’ve been in the top five for the last three or four years of my career, and Umar is just entering in and I’m on a three-fight win streak, so it was a tough sell, but I played ball with him. I’m not fighting him next. Good luck in his next one.”

After suffering a shoulder injury that prevented him competing against Sandhagen, Nurmagomedov revealed on Tuesday that the UFC found him an opponent for his return. Obviously, the promotion didn’t attempt to re-book the same fight again, especially with Sandhagen still at least three to four months away from competing after he underwent two different surgeries on his own arm.

With hopes to fight for the bantamweight title in the near future, Sandhagen really has no interest in revisiting Nurmagomedov as a potential opponent, although he has a pretty good idea why that bout was scheduled in the first place.

“There’s famous guy leverage,” Sandhagen said while addressing Nurmagomedov. “I won’t beat around the bush, there’s famous guy leverage. I’m trying to acquire some famous guy leverage. I think maybe I should start hanging out with rappers and maybe making myself look less like a normal dude than I do already.

“Maybe that will be my 2024 rebrand. I’ll get some tattoos on my face, I’ll color [my hair] and I’ll start hanging out with some rappers. It’s just the nature of the sport.”

Of course the “famous guy leverage” concerning Nurmagomedov centers around his last name, which he shares with his cousin, former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. He also trains alongside reigning UFC lightweight king Islam Makhachev after both were students under Khabib’s father, the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.

Sandhagen doesn’t fault his former opponent for taking every advantage available to him because fame drives interest, and like it or not, that matters to the UFC.

That’s why Sandhagen has been trying to increase his presence on social media and launched his own website, with hopes that he’ll start earning a little more attention outside the cage.

“This is where sport and entertainment mix,” Sandhagen said. “A lot of people watch sports for the beauty of it and then a lot of people watch for the drama of it. It’s easier to understand drama than it is to understand beauty. So that’s just the nature of everything.

“[Umar] has famous guy leverage, good on him. I’m going to try to scoop up some of that famous leverage this year so that there’s no question, ‘Cory fights for the belt next.’ I’m not going to act crazy or do anything like that. I’ll still be myself, but that’s a piece of the social media stuff and all of the side games you’ve got to play inside the big adventure.”

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