The main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night between TJ Dillashaw and Cory Sandhagen stood up to the lofty expectations surrounding one of the year’s most anticipated fights.

Dillashaw won by split decision, perhaps paving the way for a future opportunity at reclaiming a championship he never lost inside the cage. But, should Dillashaw’s ban for EPO doping preclude him from returning to the top after paying the price of two years in his prime?

Finally, two players stood out on a night filled with outstanding prospects.

Dillashaw cheated, according to Raimondi. He injected himself with EPO, was discovered, lost his UFC bantamweight title, and was sentenced to a two-year suspension by USADA. Dillashaw admits to using the banned drug in order to drop from bantamweight to flyweight.

That problem is going to haunt Dillashaw for the rest of his career. Every opponent will almost certainly bring it up. No one is claiming that it should be ignored or that Dillashaw was unfairly handled. He was not one of them. He did, however, serve his sentence. And following his performance on Saturday, a split decision victory against Sandhagen, Dillashaw is deserving of another crack at the championship he has never lost in the Octagon.

Perhaps that is an unpopular viewpoint. But, as of now, Dillashaw’s résumé is probably the greatest of any bantamweight in MMA history. ESPN placed Sandhagen third in his division. The only guys above him were the champion, Aljamain Sterling, and the next challenger and previous champ, Petr Yan. The math says one thing: Dillashaw has put himself in line to face the winner of the Sterling-Yan championship bout, which is presently scheduled for October.

Saturday night, Dillashaw was not flawless. Sandhagen enjoyed a lot of good times. Some, including judge Derek Cleary, who scored the second, fourth, and fifth rounds for Sandhagen, believed he was the legitimate winner. But all credit must go to Dillashaw, who had no ring rust. He fought through a knee injury caused by Sandhagen’s leglock attempt in the first round. In the second round, he battled through a nasty, bleeding, deep cut Sandhagen opened up. Late in the bout, Dillashaw was the fresher, more aggressive fighter.

Dillashaw was the top bantamweight in the world until he was suspended in 2019. After two years, his reputation has been permanently harmed. But, at 135 pounds, Dillashaw may still be able to make his claim as the greatest in the world. The controversial scrapper should get the chance to show or refute that in his next bout.

Sandhagen lost the fight, but he’s only 29 years old and was one or two huge blows away from bringing a victory back to Colorado. He doesn’t lose a lot of credibility here. The one issue he may have in the near future is that he has lost to Dillashaw and Sterling, taking two of the world’s best bantamweights out of the picture for the time being. A battle versus another up-and-coming fighter, such as Rob Font, might be quite exciting.

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