Cory Sandhagen and Marlon Moraes engage in a pivotal bantamweight clash to close out UFC Fight Night 179 from Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.
Sandhagen's ascent up the 135-pound ladder hit a considerable obstacle in his last appearance. Aljamain Sterling handed him his first UFC loss in just under a minute-and-a-half with a rear-naked choke. A main event spot against an opponent of Moraes' caliber gives him a chance to make up some ground.
For Moraes, it's an opportunity to get back in the title mix as well. The former WSOF champion hasn't fought since a split-decision win over Jose Aldo that saw the former featherweight kingpin go on to a title shot.
Outside of the main event is a fun featherweight affair featuring Edson Barboza and Makwan Amirkhani. Elsewhere, heavyweight Ben Rothwell makes an appearance against Marcin Tybura.
Main Card (ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
- Marlon Moraes (+120; $100 bet wins $120) vs. Cory Sandhagen (-143; bet $143 to win $100)
- Edson Barboza (-265) vs. Makwan Amirkhani (+210)
- Ben Rothwell (-159) vs. Marcin Tybura (+130)
- Markus Perez (+130) vs. Dricus Du Plessis (-162)
- Tom Aspinall (-560) vs. Alan Baudot (+400)
- Youssef Zalal (-177) vs. Ilia Topuria (+140)
Preliminary Card (ESPN+ 5 p.m. ET)
- Tom Breese (-275) vs. KB Bhullar (+210)
- Chris Daukaus (+230) vs. Rodrigo Nascimento (-305)
- Impa Kasanganay (-250) vs. Joaquin Buckley (+195)
- Ali Al-Qaisi (+170) vs. Tony Kelley (-220)
- Giga Chikadze (+130) vs. Omar Morales (-162)
- Tracy Cortez (-205) vs. Stephanie Egger (+160)
- Bruno Silva (+317) vs. Tagir Ulanbekov (-435)
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook
Moraes Stuns Sandhagen Early
Cory Sandhagen is the flashy pick in the main event. It makes sense on the surface. His only loss came at a time when he was clearly caught off-guard by Sterling in the best performance of his life. Even though it stopped some of his momentum, he's still the relatively new name.
Moraes is the exact opposite. A close decision-win over Aldo somehow seems to have done his reputation more harm than good. His inactivity makes him the forgotten man in the division.
That doesn't detract from his skills in the cage, though. The Brazilian is a dangerous striker who can find a home for his hooks or head kick and change the fight at any moment.
Dealing with Sandhagen's length will be a tall task. The 28-year-old is four inches taller and holds a three-inch reach advantage. He's good at fighting from distance and has caused problems for anyone who has decided to strike with him.
The problem is he's also prone to firefights. His defense leaves a lot to be desired for such a rangy fighter, and he gets hit more often than he should. It doesn't matter since he's able to win on volume so often, but against someone with Moraes' power, there could be a problem.
If Sandhagen gets caught—especially early when Moraes tends to be a strong starter—it could be a surprisingly short night for him.
Prediction: Moraes via first-round TKO
Amirkhani Stifles Barboza for Decision
The upset predictions keep coming here as Makwan Amirkhani is a fairly large dog against Edson Barboza but has a better shot than the odds indicate.
Some of the respect for Barboza comes from his legacy. For years, he's strung together highlight-reel finishes throughout his career and is one of the best pure kickboxers in the game. The problem is he isn't as consistent as he used to be and has struggled to a 1-5 record over his last six fights.
Barboza needs space to do his best work. When he's able to fight in the open, he will chop his opponents down with leg kicks and slowly take their will before finishing things off with a head kick.
When he's forced to fight off the back foot, there aren't as many weapons available to him.
Amirkhani is a relentless wrestler. He's not necessarily efficient, but he has fly-like persistence. He averages 3.45 takedowns per 15 minutes despite a 36 percent success rate. Barboza has been difficult to take down with an 80 percent takedown defense, but he's going to have to spend a large bulk of rounds defending.
That's not what he wants to do, and if he can't turn it into offense, he could suddenly find himself in trouble in a three-round fight.
This prediction isn't that Amirkhani will soundly beat Barboza but rather that the kickboxer is going to run out of time without getting enough offense in to finish the fight. The judges may favor Amirkhani's control over Barboza's damage.
Prediction: Amirkhani via decision
Rothwell Wins Ugly Affair with Tybura
No one's fighting style has ever matched their aesthetic quite like Ben Rothwell. The veteran heavyweight will never be called an Adonis or pick up a ton of advertising deals, but he gets the job done.
Rothwell is a plodding fighter who gets by on toughness, durability, savvy and just enough power to end a fight here and there. After back-to-back losses to open 2019, it looked like Big Ben had finally reached his decline, but now he's looking for his third win in a row against Marcin Tybura.
Tybura doesn't always make things look pretty, either. He has a grappling-heavy style when he gets to dictate the fight and wants to impose his will on the ground rather than get in a kickboxing match.
The kickboxing has looked passable at times, but it isn't a strength. The problem is that Tybura struggles to impose that will against bigger, heavier opponents, and Rothwell fits that bill. If Tybura's plan is to outgrind Rothwell, it's going to be a problem.
Big Ben has the ability to surprise with a submission if the situation dictates and has the clinch striking to win in an ugly fight.
Prediction: Rothwell via decision