Cory Sandhagen believes the spotlight will be on him as never before when he takes on Marlon Moraes in the main contest at UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
The American holds a 12-2 record while his Brazilian opponent arrives with a 23-6-1 for the bantamweight contest.
“It definitely is the most eyes that I’m gonna have on me in a fight,” Sandhagen said of his first appearance on a main UFC fight card and first visit to Abu Dhabi.
“I’m really excited that I made it to my first main event at Fight Island. I know quite a bit about my opponent. He’s one of the tougher guys in the UFC and definitely a guy I have to take very seriously.”
To feature in the headline bout is a step forward in his career but Sandhagen, 28, insisted every fight is important.
“All my fights have been special and every one of them has been different. I try to soak in as much as I can,” he said.
“I wish this can pave the way for a title fight in another one or two goes, and perhaps, that can be even better. As of now, all my fights have a special place in my heart.”
Looking ahead to his pre-fight routine, Sandhagen added: “It’s different every time as you wait for your turn to get in to the octagon.
“Sometimes there’s a lot of nerves and anxiety, sometimes there’s a game plan going through your mind, and sometimes you get aggressive, but definitely there’s a lot of emotions.
“Usually I spend around five or 10 minutes on breathing exercises before my turn comes and get my mind in a place where it needs to be.”
It is also the Colorado native’s first visit to Abu Dhabi and the furthest he has travelled for a fight.
“It’s a beautiful set-up in the (Yas) island,” Sandhagen said of the fight venue. “The island itself is beautiful with a beach.
“I did some search on Abu Dhabi and would really want to visit the (Sheikh Zayed) mosque, travel to Dubai and around the country looking around at the pretty architectures.
UFC Fight Night 4 in Abu Dhabi
“I wish I could go around but I can’t under the prevailing situation. Perhaps after the fight. If I can’t make it this time, probably next time.”
Sandhagen had to go through two quarantines both in Los Angeles and in Abu Dhabi, but acknowledged it as part of the process.
“It’s unfortunate and no one really likes to be in quarantine but these are extraordinary circumstances,” he added.
“As professional athletes we need to obey rules and it’s not unusual to go through this process under the prevailing situation.”
Sandhagen’s journey in mixed martial art began with taekwondo as a kid and then kickboxing and jiu-jitsu as a teenager.
“It has now taken me all the way to Fight Island,” he said. “I did have a lot of natural abilities and have been around in combat sport for a while before turning professional.”
Sandhagen graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Colorado in 2014. He was involved in social work aside from his training and studies during his college days.
“I teach in the gym where I train,” he said. “During my college days I did some social work and ended up doing a part time job at a trauma centre for children.
“I still love doing it even though I don’t need to do that anymore at this stage of my life. It’s my way of giving back something to the community.”