It was a comprehensively violent Saturday night in Abu Dhabi.
In fact, the UFC's second Fight Island show of the month at the Flash Forum was so punishing it prompted ESPN+ broadcaster Dan Hardy to suggest the venue get a name change.
"After some of the fights we've had tonight," he said, "forget the Flash Forum, it needs to be the Smash Forum."
Hardy's words were proved correct up and down the 13-fight card, which included seven fights on a preliminary show that started at 5 p.m. ET before a six-bout main portion that got going at 8 p.m.
The main event involved two ranked fighters at bantamweight, and another top-10 commodity at featherweight was present for the final run-up bout before it.
But the most viscerally memorable scraps of the night came farther down on the card—including a middleweight KO that could already warrant top stoppage awards for the year, decade and century.
"There's gonna be some cash flying around with these performances bonuses," Hardy said.
Within two hours, the UFC's tweet of its ending had more than 125,000 likes and nearly 50,000 retweets.
"That is a viral KO," Hardy said, seconds after the decisive shot landed. "We're going to be seeing that over and over this week."
B/R's MMA team was happily on hand for all the in-cage craziness, and we compiled a list of the high-end winners and losers across the entire card.
Read on to see our impressions, to get the specs on the historic KO and to see where your own thoughts line up with ours. And as always, drop a comment to let us know where we got things right.
Winner: Calling Your Shot
Want to know how confident Cory Sandhagen was Saturday night?
The fourth-ranked bantamweight was in there with the No. 1 contender in his weight class.
Still, upon landing a strike to Marlon Moraes' face about 30 seconds into the second round that caused immediate swelling under the right eye, he shouted out to his corner team: "His orbital bone's broken."
The words rang out across an otherwise empty Flash Forum, but Sandhagen said moments later that they reached their intended target.
"Just to mess with him I said something," he said. "And it looked like it got in his head."
Indeed, Sandhagen's brash approach paid off soon after, when he landed a spinning right heel kick that hit high on the right side of Moraes' head and sent him somersaulting backward toward the cage.
A couple of quick ground strikes later and it was over at 1:03—and the winner was getting high praise for the ninth spinning heel kick finish in UFC history.
"That is a statement. He is gonna be a problem for anybody at 135 pounds," Paul Felder said. "On the biggest night of his career, he turned out. He was technical throughout and he set up all of his shots. He was paced, he was controlled and he was confident."
It was an overdue return to the win column for Sandhagen, who'd won 12 of his first 13 fights as a pro—including seven in a row—before a first-round submission loss to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 250 in June.
Moraes, meanwhile, had won five of six coming in—including a first-round KO of Sterling—with the only loss by third-round stoppage in an unsuccessful challenge of then-champ Henry Cejudo at UFC 238.
"I never let my head get stale," Sandhagen said. "I was here for a reason. I made it about that reason. Now it's time to celebrate. I want that belt. I want the winner of [champion Petr) Yan and Sterling."
Winner: Moving Down to Move Up
Two highly skilled and dangerous featherweights engaged in a co-main event chess match.
Fourteenth-ranked contender Edson Barboza was just a bit faster and bit more dangerous across two of three rounds against Makwan Amirkhani, dropping his Finnish rival with a pair of straight right hands on the way to a unanimous decision in their three-rounder at 145 pounds.
"I expected it to be exactly like that," Barboza said. "He tried to move a little bit and tried to take me down, but I was ready for everything."
Indeed, Amirkhani was consistently moving forward and hoping to engage Barboza in close, but the Brazilian moved well and peppered his foe with kicks to the body and punches to the head.
The speed difference was most evident in the second round when Barboza landed separate right-hand leads that dropped Amirkhani to the seat of his pants.
The second-round dominance propelled Barboza to 30-26, 30-27 and 29-28 edges on the scorecards.
It was just the second win in seven fights for Barboza since March 2017, when he'd finished a stretch of three straight victories. He said beating Amirkhani made him feel revitalized at 145 pounds, as opposed to the lightweight division where he'd spent much of his career.
"I wanna be a champ. I'm here to be a champ. I'm ready to be a champ," he said. "Gimme anybody top five top six."
Loser: First Impressions
Maybe he heard them. Maybe he didn't.
Regardless, the reviews for the first few minutes of Dricus Du Plessis' UFC career were not good.
The broadcast team panned the South African for his octagonal debut jitters and determined and dynamic middleweight opponent Markus Perez looked ready to send him back home with a violent loss.
Until he wasn't.
The 26-year-old Du Plessis began settling in and landing shots of his own as the initial round passed the midway point, and he landed a decisive left hand moments later that ended matters at 3:22.
"Sure. It was a case of I'm in the damn UFC," Du Plessis said. "But I started seeing the timing of his shots. The counters started landing and he started slowing down."
The end came when Du Plessis launched a high left kick followed by an overhand right. Perez was able to elude both shots, but in ducking the right, he put himself directly in line with the left hand that landed alongside his ear and immediately dropped him to his knees and then flat on his belly.
Du Plessis jumped in for a few quick ground shots before referee Kevin Sataki pulled him off.
"I said before the fight that after the fight I'd let it all sink in. I had no time for that beforehand," Du Plessis said. "This is the happiest moment of my life. I've never had anything like this."
Loser: Fighting for Four
Youssef Zalal had been among the busiest and most successful fighters in the UFC in 2020.
But when the Moroccan featherweight took a shot at securing his promotion-best fourth win of the calendar year, he finally met his match.
Unbeaten Georgian Ilia Topuria played the role of momentum-stuffer in his octagonal debut, grinding Zalal against the cage and on the mat at every opportunity in securing a unanimous three-round decision in the punishing opener of the six-fight main card.
Zalal had won three-round decisions in February, June and August to improve his record to 10-2, and he came out looking to use superior footwork and speed, but Topuria was able to close distance with jabs to the body and overhand rights to the head.
Then, once the two were clinched, he went for takedowns and put his jiu-jitsu black belt skills to work.
"He was very tough," Topuria said. "I was very close to a submission, but he's a very tough guy."
The first two rounds were particularly brutal for Zalal as Topuria worked through a collection of submissions attempts that left Zalal scrambling to survive. He was clearly fatigued as the fight entered the third and was unable to sustain offense of his own for any extended stretch.
Topuria won by 29-28 counts on all three official scorecards and improved to 9-0.
"I will take some days to recover, and I'll be ready to take the call and get back to work," he said. "Maybe I'll fight against in November."
Winner: Going Violently Viral
If you're a fan of finishes, you can go ahead and stop watching mixed martial arts.
Because you'll never see one better than Joaquin Buckley delivered Saturday.
The 13-fight St. Louis veteran ended his three-round scrap with middleweight Impa Kasanganay in violently viral style, laying his foe out with a single spinning back kick at 2:03 of the Round 2.
It was the fourth spinning back kick KO in UFC history and earned immediate rave reviews.
"That might be the greatest knockout I've ever seen," Felder said.
It came an instant after Kasanganay blocked a high left kick to the head and kept hold of Buckley's foot as the two then stood face to face. Undaunted, Buckley agilely pivoted backward and spun his right foot directly into a defenseless Kasanganay's head.
The previously unbeaten fighter was already unconscious as he tumbled backward to the floor, and the fight was immediately waved off by referee Sataki.
"I was still able to balance with him grabbing my foot, so I just spun and kicked. I aimed and I fired and it got the result we needed," Buckley said. "I didn't know if I knocked him out, though, until he looked up and I said it was game over."
Winner: Enforcing the Law
Chris Daukaus doesn't wear a uniform or badge into the Octagon.
But the Philadelphia police officer has quickly turned the cage into a law enforcement playpen.
The 231-pounder made his second UFC appearance in 56 days as impressive as the first, dropping massive heavyweight Rodrigo Nascimento with a clean left hook and finishing the fight moments later with another powerful left hand that prompted a quick rescue from referee Marc Goddard.
The end came at 45 seconds of Round 1, giving Daukaus a pair of first-round finishes in two UFC fights after he'd spent seven years in the shadows on local and regional MMA circuits.
"I landed and it dropped him. My biggest thing is just staying calm in there. I'm 2-0 in the UFC, and I couldn't be prouder," he said. "Whenever the UFC wants to call again, I'll answer the phone.
"Where we going?"
Outweighed by more than 30 pounds, Daukaus was much quicker on his feet and with his fists than Nascimento, who'd arrived with eight consecutive wins since turning pro in 2012. The bigger man came out southpaw and transitioned back to an orthodox stance, which was when Daukaus leapt forward with the left hand that began the decisive sequence.
Nascimento got back to his feet after surviving the initial shot and a follow-up of ground-and-pound shots, but he was nailed with another left soon after and prompted Goddard's intervention as he fell to the floor.
"I didn't expect he'd come out southpaw, but by all means come out southpaw against me. I'll beat you up," Daukaus said. "They throw big bombs and you just have to stay technical and super tight."
UFC Fight Night 180 Full Card Results
Cory Sandhagen def. Marlon Moraes by TKO, 1:03, Round 2
Edson Barboza def. Makwan Amirkhani by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 29-28)
Marcin Tybura def. Ben Rothwell by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
Dricus Du Plessis def. Markus Perez by KO, 3:22, Round 1
Tom Aspinall def. Alan Baudot by TKO, 1:35, Round 1
Ilia Topuria def. Youssef Zalal by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Tom Breese def. KB Bhullar by TKO, 3:18, Round 1
Chris Daukaus def. Rodrigo Nascimento by KO, 0:45, Round 1
Joaquin Buckley def. Impa Kasanganay by KO, 2:03, Round 2
Tony Kelley def. Ali Al-Qaisi by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Giga Chikadze def. Omar Morales by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Tracy Cortez def. Stephanie Egger by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Tagir Ulanbekov def. Bruno Silva by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Performances of the Night
Tom Breese, Joaquin Buckley, Chris Daukaus, Cory Sandhagen