UFC fighter Sandhagen has mindset to be the best

It was the first round. He was on his back, in the center of the octagon, an arm being pulled by his opponent. Almost at his breaking point.

And then it happened. It popped. His elbow popped out of its socket. But there was no tap — there was only a calm, determined demeanor on his face. He got out of the armbar and asserted dominance. With the elbow popped, the ground and pound was the way to win. Shot after shot to his opponent on the ground. And before anyone knew it, by the beginning of the second round, the fight was over. He had won by TKO.

“I remember having a lucid thought of like, ‘Alright, the arm is already straight and all the damage is done, and it can’t get any more hurt, so you might as well just fight through it,” Cory Sandhagen said.

Most people would tap out in that situation. Not Sandhagen. He hadn’t worked that hard to come up short. He was not going to lose. He thought of the situation as a puzzle that he had to continue to solve, given he did not feel pain in the injured elbow.

Having not started competitive fighting until he was 17, Sandhagen is right around the corner from having a ranking number next to his name in the UFC, but the ranking number and the fame is not what motivates him. Perfection is. Perfection of something he calls an art.

Sandhagen defies the stereotypes about the mindset of a typical UFC fighter.

Sandhagen said that working with a sports psychologist from his early professional career is one the best decisions he has made. He said there tends to be a “macho man” image among fighters that makes them too tough to see sports psychologists. Being able to control his mind and deal with situations on the fly is a major part of his fighting style. Sandhagen really stressed that the mental side of fighting is of great importance to him.

“I have no attachment to this type of ego that goes along with this sport,” he said. “For me, working with a sports psychologist has taught me incredibly important lessons in controlling the mind.”

Sandhagen is also a well-rounded individual. He spends his time away from fighting doing good for the community.

“If fighting is the only thing I’m doing in my life, it’s not fulfilling enough for me,” Sandhagen said.

Sandhagen works part-time coaching kids at his gym in Aurora, Colorado, and he also works at a mental trauma center for children. Having completed a psychology degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, Sandhagen always hoped to work with and help kids in some capacity.

Having these jobs away from his own fighting takes some of the pressures of being a professional fighter off him. Without them, his life lacks fulfillment.

Sandhagen recounts that it was hard in college to balance going to the gym and training because teachers were not always receptive to him missing classes to travel. Since his training was not a part of CU Boulder, he had to rely on his coach, Christian Allen, to schedule fights and make time to train.

“I remember the first time training with him, I could tell right away he was different than everyone else,” said Noah Broffman.

Noah is a friend of Sandhagen’s who he met freshman year in college and the two started training together while they were at school. Noah describes Sandhagen as being a very calm, good natured individual. Noah also mentioned Sandhagen’s supporting cast in high regards.

“He has top-notch coaches who all believe in him and know he’s the real deal,” Broffman said.

“I got really lucky to have Christian (Allen) be my coach and a really big life mentor,” Sandhagen said. “And now he’s like a best friend in my life.”

Allen did not only schedule amateur fights for Sandhagen, he has been the biggest influence on Sandhagen’s life since he started competitive fighting.

Sandhagen’s most recent fight was the first card that ESPN had for the UFC. The moment wasn’t surreal for Sandhagen, until he saw it on TV afterward.

“I didn’t think that I would ever be on SportsCenter’s Top 10,”Sandhagen said.

Going into the fight he was focused on being the best he could be. He didn’t want to let the occasion get in the way of his true task. After the fight, Sandhagen saw himself on TV at a local burger place that he had gone to with his coaches and friends. And that’s when it hit him. He had just made history, being the first UFC win officially televised on ESPN since the partnership between the two entities.

Sandhagen has stayed very humble with his recent success. He still lives in Aurora, where he grew up. He lives 15 minutes away from his parents. However, he did not always get the same support he does now. At the beginning, his parents thought it was going to be something he did for a short time.

Once Sandhagen started to win fights and make a name for himself in professional fighting, his parents were much more understanding of the potential he had.

Sandhagen wants to achieve perfection in the art of combat. There are so many different styles in mixed martial arts that are there to be mastered and Sandhagen is on the road to successfully doing so.

Going about his business in an intelligent way is an understatement for the preparation Sandhagen does for fights. He described his style as something very consistent, that does not change too much from fight to fight. Rather, he wants to tighten up areas of his own game in order to make himself as close to perfect as he can be.

Speaking about his motivations, Sandhagen made it clear that perfecting the art was at the top of his list.

“Winning the belt is a motivator of mine,” he said. “Making a lot of money is a motivator of mine. Winning all of my fights is a motivator of mine. The biggest thing for me, and this keeps me very grounded and keeps me in good headspace, is that I’m doing this to perfect the art of combat. Making it as perfect and as efficient as you can. I keep my eyes set on that everyday,” Sandhagen said.

Every fighter has different motivations. They come from different backgrounds. They have different paths they have taken to get where they are. There is no traditional path, but that doesn’t change Sandhagen’s focus. Sandhagen wants to be the best. He wants to leave his stamp on the UFC.

“My biggest goal is to leave a legacy that I know I did my best and I became the closest to truthful fighting as one can,” Sandhagen said.

“Truthful fighting” was a term Sandhagen used a number times. It’s a term that is essential to his mindset. Sandhagen has the mindset to succeed. He has the skill and work ethic to be the best. Now, it’s his time to go out there and prove it.