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UFC 241's Cory Sandhagen 'bummed' John Lineker released, but sees opportunity for fresh faces

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ANAHEIM, Calif. – In July, the UFC’s release of John Lineker made major headlines in the world of mixed martial arts.

The final person to face Lineker inside the UFC cage, Cory Sandhagen, like many, didn’t like to see the Brazilian go. Ahead of his bout against Raphael Assuncao (27-6 MMA, 11-3 UFC) on Saturday, Sandhagen (11-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) shared his thoughts on Lineker’s departure and how it could be good for the rest of the division.

“Yeah, I’m kind of bummed, because I’m a Lineker fan,” Sandhagen told MMA Junkie. “I don’t really watch too much of the ONE stuff, so I was pretty bummed about it. But I don’t know what went on behind the scenes for that to happen. I hope the best for him.”

While the 27-year-old bantamweight is “bummed” to see the perennial contender exit the UFC, he doesn’t think it harms the division much. In fact, Sandhagen said he hopes to see the UFC take full advantage of the younger, newer up-and-coming talent in the 135-pound division.

“I don’t think it hurts the division too much,” Sandhagen said. “There’s lots of up-and-coming guys also. If the UFC plays their cards right and invests in the right guys, then they can have some really big superstars in the near future – myself included, I hope.”

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Two other names Sandhagen mentioned in the same category were Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan, who have been angling to fight each other later this year in a potential No. 1 contender fight. With a win over Assuncao, Sandhagen believes he could be thrown in the title-contention conversation.

“I keep saying whenever the UFC wants to give me the title, I’ll take it,” Sandhagen said. “I know it’s a business and it’s run like a business – blah, blah, blah. I mean when it comes to it, I think the UFC needs to invest in some newer guys. A lot of the other guys are maybe 3-4 years away from being done. And I still have 10 more years if I can play my cards right.

“I’d like to see an interim belt between either me, Sterling, or Yan. Just being that we’re the three new faces in the vision that are performing very, very well. Then, Cejudo gets back to fighting at 135 if he’s going down to 125 or whatever he’s doing, he comes up to 135 and fights the winner of that interim belt.”

Not many bantamweights have been able to pass the test that Assuncao presents. A perennial top-five contender, the Brazilian is regarded as one of the division’s more difficult matchups. Since 2011, he has only lost two bouts over a span of 15 fights. His lone losses came to former champion T.J. Dillashaw and former title challenger Marlon Moraes.

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Confident in his abilities, Sandhagen said he is fully aware of the task at hand Saturday night. Despite his continual acceleration through the UFC’s bantamweight division, he doesn’t see his current six-fight winning streak coming to a halt.

“I think when you get to the level of the top ten or the top five, you start to discover that the margins of you being better or worse in certain areas of fighting, the margins aren’t going to be crazy big,” Sandhagen said. “But I can really maximize my advantages in this fight.”

“… It’s going to be a technical fight. Just outworking and outclassing him. That’s all I have in my head. Maximize my advantages, outwork, and outclass.”

UFC 241 takes place at Honda Center. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+.

Gallery

Cory Sandhagen def. John Lineker at UFC on ESPN+ 8: Best photos

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