Cory Sandhagen took a big step toward capturing the UFC bantamweight championship with a second-round TKO win over Marlon Moraes in the main event of UFC Fight Night 179 from Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Saturday.
The first round was a quick demonstration of the skill level of both fighters. Sandhagen attacked on his feet from multiple angles and levels, but Moraes was there to answer back with his hook in most cases. A high-level chess match was afoot with Sandhagen in control.
If the first round was a chess match, in the second round Sandhagen flipped all the pieces over and started beating Moraes with the board. He landed a heel kick to the head of Moraes to pick up the TKO win and rebound from his first UFC loss.
Last time out, Sandhagen was upset by Aljamain Sterling in a first-round submission loss. However, this win was more indicative of the kind of potential that he's shown in his rise to the top of the rankings. Now the rangy 135 pounder has a strong case to fight for the title soon.
For Moraes, this was his first time fighting since a decision win over Jose Aldo in 2019. This is the kind of loss that will take a few solid performances to get his stock back to where it was.
Aside from the high-profile bantamweight fight, this card also produced one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history. Joaquin Buckley easily had the highlight of the night with his spinning back kick knockout in the prelims.
- Cory Sandhagen def. Marlon Moraes by TKO (punches) at 1:03 of 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 x3)
- Dricus du Plessis def. Markus Perez by KO (punches), 3:22 of Round 1
- Tom Aspinall def. Alan Baudot by TKO (punches), 1:35 of Round 1
- Ilia Topuria def. Youssef Zalal by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
- Tom Breese def. KB Bhullar by TKO (punches) at 1:42 of Round 1
- Chris Daukaus def. Rodrigo Nascimento by KO (punches) at 0:45 of Round 1
- Joaquin Buckley def. Impa Kasanganay by KO (spinning back kick) at 2:03 of Round 2
- Tony Kelley def. Ali AlQaisi by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
- Giga Chikadze def. Omar Morales by unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
- Tracy Cortez def. Stephanie Egger by unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
- Tagir Ulanbekov def. Bruno Silva by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Edson Barboza def. Makwan Amirkhani
Makwan Amirkhani needed to get Edson Barboza to the mat early and often if he wanted to upset his opponent in the co-main event. He was able to get him to the ground multiple times, but it was a classic story of too little, too late each time.
In the first two rounds, the quicker and more athletic Barboza tagged Amirkhani with lightning-fast kicks and powerful punches. Each time, Amirkhani was only able to wrestle his opponent to the mat with mere seconds on the clock.
The second round nearly saw Barboza pick up the finish, but Mr. Finland was able to hang on to extend the fight.
In the third round, Amirkhani finally got Barboza to the ground with time to work, but it wasn't enough. He had clearly lost two rounds and never got the momentum to put his opponent in any real danger.
This was a big win for Barboza, who was 1-5 in his previous six fights. This was a good reminder of the kind of striking ability he has when he can find the space to fire off his attacks.
Marcin Tybura def. Ben Rothwell
It wasn't always pretty, but Marcin Tybura earned a unanimous-decision victory over Ben Rothwell.
Tybura—who is usually a grinding grappler—chose to stand and kickbox with his veteran opponent. As it turned out, he was the better of the two in that department, as he was the more accurate and efficient striker.
This was a surprisingly busy fight from a sheer volume standpoint. According to ESPN stats, Rothwell threw an uncharacteristic 287 total strikes while landing less than 100.
The win gives Tybura a three-fight win streak. Only Curtis Blaydes and Francis Ngannou have longer streaks in the division, which means that Tybura is well-positioned for big opportunities.
This was the rare heavyweight fight in which neither guy possessed massive one-punch power. Tybura will need to prove these improvements in the striking game can be employed against a more dangerous opponent before this is considered the norm for him.
Dricus du Plessis def. Markus Perez
Markus Perez provided the entertainment and antics before his middleweight bout with Dricus du Plessis, but it was the South African who had all the fun once the cage door closed.
Perez—who went to the weigh-ins in full Joker face paint—had no answer for du Plessis' overwhelming striking in the cage. Du Plessis picked up a knockout win with a short left hand that caught Perez flush while he was avoiding the right hand.
It was an entertaining and emphatic way for du Plessis to make his UFC debut. The former KSW middleweight champion has lost just one fight since 2015 and clearly has the power to make some noise.
Perez isn't exactly a tough test, but he did have five UFC fights under his belt. The Brazilian has now dropped two in a row with a loss to Wellington Turman in his last bout. While du Plessis certainly made waves with this appearance, Perez may be on the chopping block.
Tom Aspinall def. Alan Baudot
After the fight, Tom Aspinall said he's in no hurry to progress his career, but he certainly didn't fight like it.
The English heavyweight needed just over a minute-and-a-half to dispatch of his short-notice opponent Alan Baudot. It's his second first-round finish in the UFC in as many attempts and his fifth consecutive first-round knockout going back to his days in Cage Warriors and Full Contact Contender.
The heavyweight division is always one in need of promising prospects, and Aspinall certainly fits the bill. His ability to win fights on the ground and get opponents out of there quickly gives him a ton of potential.
Whether or not he wants to be fast-tracked if he keeps winning fights this way, it won't be long before he's fighting ranked opponents.
Ilia Topuria def. Youssef Zalal
Ilia Topuria entered the weekend as an unknown who was stepping in on eight days' notice to fight Youssef Zalal, who was 3-0 in the UFC. Topuria might be a name you want to familiarize yourself with after his unanimous-decision win over Zalal.
Topuria showcased an active and dangerous submission game with several submission attempts that nearly ended the fight. Zalal spent a lot of time in the first two rounds simply trying to survive various chokes.
The Moroccan did rally to have a good third-round showing. But by then the damage had been done and Zalal had little in the way of fight-ending strikes. Being a grappler himself, he was unable to do anything but threaten with a few submissions of his own.
Both fighters are extremely young. Zalal is 24, while Topuria is only 23. Both should have bright futures in the division and will give opponents fits on the mat.