Umar Nurmagomedov in talks with UFC for Cory Sandhagen fight in June, expects title shot with win

Umar Nurmagomedov hopes to have his next assignment soon.

The highly touted bantamweight contender is currently targeting June for his return to action, and he hopes to secure a fight with Cory Sandhagen. Both fighters have called for the matchup after they were originally scheduled to meet this past August and Nurmagomedov was forced off the card after suffering a shoulder injury.

Fresh off a dominant win over newcomer Bekzat Almakhan in March, Nurmagomedov revealed that his management team has already been in contact with the UFC to inquire about the Sandhagen fight, and he’s confident the matchup will happen.

“We’re just talking about this fight right now with UFC,” Nurmagomedov told MMA Fighting. “My manager is talking about this fight [with the UFC], and we’re just talking about the date. I think June, maybe [June] 8, maybe [June 29], maybe some different date, it doesn’t matter to me. Any time I can fight.

“It’s up to the UFC. I hope nothing is going to happen [to this fight]. I hope I will fight with Cory, and Cory talked about this, I talked about this, the UFC talked about this before my fight with the debut guy Bekzat Almakhan. Just waiting when they are going to stay in contact, when they’re going to choose date.”

There are multiple dates planned for the UFC in June, including UFC 302 expected on June 1, a UFC Fight Night card tentatively slotted in for June 8, a cardd in Saudi Arabia on June 22 and UFC 303 on June 29.

Sandhagen called for the fight to happen at UFC 303, which caps off the promotion’s annual International Fight week event in Las Vegas. Nurmagomedov said he’s more than happy to fight on that date. He floated the idea of sharing the card with his longtime teammate, UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev, who is also rumored to compete.

Ideally, Nurmagomedov would like to get Sandhagen in a five-round fight, but he’s open to whatever the UFC has in mind.

“Of course, I want to share a card with Islam,” Nurmagomedov said. “He’s my big brother, and it’s going to be very good, the team is going to be close. Many guys are going to come, friends are going to come, brothers are going to come. It’s just going to be a question of how many rounds I’m going to fight.

“If it’s not main [event], I want to fight five rounds. Because if my next fight is going to be for the title, I have to check myself and fight for five rounds. But anything different, it doesn’t matter. I want to fight five rounds. We’re going to see. For me, it doesn’t matter.”

Thanks to his experience and the level of competition, Nurmagomedov sees Sandhagen as an ideal matchup as he continues his climb up the bantamweight ladder.

“I think [Sandhagen is] one of [most] technical fighters, one of the smartest fighters in the UFC,” Nurmagomedov said. “In his last fight, he showed good wrestling, he showed good top control with Rob Font. He was injured, too. We’re going to see.

“I’m respectful. I respect him. I think me and him, we’re going to show one of the best fights and a good performance, I hope.”

On paper, Nurmagomedov vs. Sandhagen appears to be the classic grappler versus striker matchup. But both fighters have shown plenty of different wrinkles in their games. That said, the 28-year-old Dagestan native knows he’d be foolish not to play to his strengths, dragging Sandhagen into deep waters on the ground and drowning him there.

“I think I can beat him in the striking, too, but you know I think why I have to give him some chance?” Nurmagomedov said. “Striking is always 50-50. Somebody can catch you. Everybody can give you a lucky punch.

“I think why give him a lucky punch when I can take him down and I can choke him and dominate and maul him. That’s why I’m always choosing to hold people and takedowns, and try to finish and try to smash [them].”

If he gets his desired fight, Nurmagomedov believes the winner of his matchup with Sandhagen should immediately become the No. 1 contender in the division. While he expects Merab Dvalishvili to get the next shot at champion Sean O’Malley later this year, he doesn’t see any other scenario that makes sense.

“Who else [is there]?” Nurmagomedov said. “Me and Cory, who else? Petr Yan lost his last three fights, and right now, he’s on a one [fight] winning streak. In the top five, Chito [Vera] lost, [Henry] Cejudo lost, just Cory has a winning streak. Who’s [else]?”

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