UFC Fight Night Report: Cory Sandhagen finishes Marlon Moraes with a highlight-reel knockout
By: Eric Marcotte
On Saturday evening, the UFC continued its current run of events at the Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The card was headlined by a bout between Marlon Moraes and Cory Sandhagen. Moraes has been inactive since his win against Jose Aldo last December but was still the top-ranked bantamweight contender going into this fight, and with a first-round knockout win over Aljamain Sterling on his resume, a win here could very well propel Moraes right back to a title fight. Sandhagen had decisively lost his last bout (against the aforementioned Sterling), but was still the fourth-ranked bantamweight contender, with a total record of 5-1 in the promotion. This marked his first five-round fight, and a win against Moraes would be a huge notch on his belt. In the co-main event, Makwan Amirkhani faced off against the always exciting, Edson Barboza.
The commentary team for this card consisted of John Gooden, Dan Hardy, and Paul Felder. Performance bonuses were awarded to Joaquin Buckley, Chris Daukaus, Tom Breese, and Cory Sandhagen.
*Tagir Ulanbekov def. Bruno Silva by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
*Tracy Cortez def. Stephanie Egger by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Giga Chikadze def. Omar Morales by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Tony Kelley def. Ali Alqaisi by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
*Joaquin Buckley def. Impa Kasanganay by KO at 2:03 of Round 2
*Chris Daukaus def. Rodrigo Nascimento by KO at 0:45 of Round 1
*Tom Breese def. K.B. Bhullar by TKO at 1:42 of Round 1
*Ilia Topuria def. Youssef Zalal by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Tom Aspinall def. Alan Baudot by TKO at 1:35 of Round 1
*Dricus Du Plessis def. Markus Perez by KO at 3:22 of Round 1
*Marcin Tybura def. Ben Rothwell by unanimous decision (29-27 all)
*Edson Barboza def. Makwan Amirkhani by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 29-28)
*Cory Sandhagen def. Marlon Moraes by TKO at 1:03 of Round 2
TAGIR ULANBEKOV (10-1, 126) VS BRUNO SILVA (10-4-2, 1 NC, 125.5) – FLYWEIGHT
Silva began the fight with a series of low kicks, and less than two minutes into the fight, they were clearly beginning to effect Ulanbekov. Both fighters were landing some hard hooks in the pocket, and Silva landed a beautiful spinning back fist. Ulanbekov took Silva down with a body lock near the fence, but Silva used to the cage to pick himself back up and separate. As the round progressed, Silva’s leg kicks were doing more and more damage. Silva attempted spinning attacks a couple more times towards the end of the round, but Ulanbekov countered with hooks. These two fought at an impressive pace this round.
Ulanbekov cut Silva open near his right eye, and he was beginning to do a better job of making Silva pay for his leg kicks. Ulanbekov took Silva down with another body lock. Silva briefly got back to his feet, but Ulanbekov dragged him right back down and attempted to take his back. Silva was able to escape the position but was taken down yet again. Silva created some distance near the end of the round and completed a takedown of his own before time expired. I had the fight scored 19-19 going into the third.
Silva came out of his corner throwing heavy hands to begin the third round. Both men were landing heavy blows, and Silva stuffed a pair of takedowns from Ulanbekov in the center of the cage. Ulanbekov was beginning to get the better of the striking exchanges, and Silva succeeded in halting his momentum by dragging him to the ground by the neck. Ulanbekov quickly got back up and evened the score with a takedown of his own. Silva rolled to the top position. They ended the round trading wildly in the center of the octagon, Holloway/Lamas style. I scored the fight 29-28 Silva.
WINNER: Tagir Ulanbekov by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
I thought this was a fantastic fight to kick off a long show. Silva took the fight to Ulanbekov early with a series of nasty leg kicks, but Ulanbekov fought through it and got the better of the striking exchanges later in the fight. Personally, I thought that Silva took the first round with his leg kicks, and thought he narrowly took the third round, but it was a very close fight. This was Ulanbekov’s UFC debut.
TRACY CORTEZ (7-1, 136) VS STEPHANIE EGGER (5-1, 135.5) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Egger shrugged off a takedown attempt from Cortez early in the fight but was quickly leveled by an overhand right hand. She didn’t seem to be too hurt but was taken down shortly after regaining her balance. Cortez worked her way to Egger’s back and locked in a body triangle. Egger worked her way up, but this was a clear first round in favor of Cortez.
Cortez took Egger back down with a single leg about thirty seconds into the second round. Cortez got caught by a strong up kick but was able to recover and maintain top position. She took Egger’s back yet again, and rode out the remainder of the round here, searching for a choke. 20-18 Cortez.
Egger started the third round with a takedown of her own, but Cortez quickly worked her way back to her feet. Egger attempted a trip, but it backfired as Cortez countered it and ended up in the dominant position. Cortez dominated the remainder of the round and clearly won this fight.
WINNER: Tracy Cortez by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
This was primarily a grappling match, and while Egger did some interesting things, Cortez was constantly a step ahead and controlled the vast majority of every round. With this win, Cortez is now 2-0 in the UFC and has won each of her fights since losing in her professional debut.
GIGA CHIKADZE (10-2, 146) VS OMAR MORALES (10-0, 145.5) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Chikadze was actively attacking the lead leg of Morales early. They exchanged big right hands, and Chikadze put Morales on the retreat with a left. Both fighters were really loading up on their shots, looking for the knockout, and they were just missing. Chikadze connected with a pair of counter lefts, and a solid body kick late in the round. 10-9 Chikadze.
Chikadze attempted a judo throw when Morales put pressure on him, and Morales was able to force him to the ground for the first takedown of the fight. Chikadze got back to his feet and Morales seemed to stumble momentarily on his lead leg. Both men were typically throwing one punch at a time, resulting in a lot of misses, but Chikadze began to find his range late in the round, and I had him up 20-18 going into the third.
Morales was aggressive in the third round but was unable to fight his target more often than not. The commentators pointed out that the damage done to his lead leg was impacting his striking. Chikadze continued to attack the body with kicks and landed a big left hook. Chikadze caught Morales with a right hand that sends him down to the ground, and he jumped into his guard to finish the fight, but despite taking some solid shots on the ground, Morales managed to get back to his feet. Morales pressured forward to end the round, but couldn’t land that one big shot, and this one went the distance. 30-27 Chikadze.
WINNER: Giga Chikadze by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
After a pair of close fights to begin his run in the UFC, Chikadze has really dominated his last two fights. While this was by no means a beatdown, he controlled the fight on the feet and came close to picking up a finish in the third. He is now 4-0 in the UFC, and I would imagine he will be facing the next level of UFC competition soon enough.
ALI ALQAISI (8-4, 136) VS TONY KELLEY (5-2, 136) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Alqaisi took Kelley down after catching a kick and avoided a triangle attempt. He was having difficulty advancing position but eventually transitioned to a guillotine choke. Kelley fought out of the submission attempt and trapped Alqaisi in an uncomfortable-looking triangle. Kelley began to hunt for an armbar and stretched Alqaisi’s arm back, but he didn’t have the positioning to get the finish, and time expired. Very close round, but I gave the edge to Kelley.
After stuffing a takedown from Alqaisi, Kelley rocked his opponent with a standing knee to the head and took him down. Alqaisi was able to recover and get a takedown of his own later in the round. He was not, however, able to do much with it, and this was a clear round for Kelley.
Alqaisi took Kelley down seconds into the third round, but Kelley escaped and landed another huge knee up the middle that rocked Alqaisi. Kelley sent Alqaisi to the ground with a follow-up combination and went for a D’Arce choke, but Alqaisi fought out of it and got back to his feet. Alqaisi landed a huge spinning back fist but ate a knee that landed low, and the action was paused. The fight ended up going the distance, and Kelley was furious as time expired, yelling at Alqaisi, and they had to be separated by the officials. I scored the fight 30-27 Kelley.
WINNER: Tony Kelley by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Alqaisi appeared shocked by the decision, but unfortunately, nearly getting finished in every round doesn’t look great to the judges. Nonetheless, he showed a lot of heart by coming back from knees as well as the first-round armbar. This was Kelley’s first win in the UFC, and he is now 1-1 in the promotion.
IMPA KASANGANAY (8-0, 185.5) VS JOAQUIN BUCKLEY (10-3, 185.5) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
The opening minute of this fight was wild. Kasanganay appeared to land a head kick., and Buckley just rushed forward, hurting Kasanganay with hooks, until they clinched against the cage. Kasanganay landed a solid hook, and Buckley responded with a sidekick to the body. Buckley worked his way to the inside with a combination of hooks, and then took Kasanganay down with a trip. Kasanganay knocked Buckley’s mouthpiece out with a knee. He buckled Buckley’s lead leg with an inside leg kick. This was a very good round. I scored it 10-9 for Buckley, but it could of went either way.
Now before I attempt to recap this, let me preface things by saying there is no possible way for me to do this justice. Buckley threw a kick that Kasanganay caught, and Buckley jumped with his other leg and used it to catch Buckley square on the chin with a spinning back kick. Kasanganay was frozen, and then slowly fell back to the ground unconscious. This was one of the greatest knockouts of all time.
WINNER: Joaquin Buckley by KO at 2:03 of Round 2
Wow. If you did not watch this card, you need to go watch this finish immediately. The entire fight was hard-hitting, with both fighters getting caught by some heavy hooks and knees, but all that will be remembered from this one is the finish. It will be very hard to top this finish for knockout of the year, and it will live on in highlight reels forever. Buckley is now 1-1 in the UFC, but it should be noted he took that first fight on extremely short notice against an established UFC name in Kevin Holland. I think this guy has a ton of potential, and both Buckley and Kasanganay have shown that they are must-watch fighters these past few months.
RODRIGO NASCIMENTO (16-5, 265) VS CHRIS DAUKAUS (9-3, 227) – HEAVYWEIGHT
Daukaus quickly floored Nascimento with a left hook and followed him to the ground with some powerful ground and pound. Nascimento picked himself up, but Daukaus continued his onslaught of strikes and knocked him out with another left hook.
WINNER: Chris Daukaus by KO at 0:45 of Round 1
Daukaus weighed in 39 pounds lighter than Nascimento, which lent itself to a sizeable advantage in the speed department. After dropping Nascimento with that first left hook, Daukaus didn’t give Nascimento a second to recover and picked up a clean knockout not long thereafter. Daukaus is now 2-0 in the UFC with two first-round knockouts.
TOM BREESE (8-2, 186) VS K.B. BHULLAR (8-0, 186) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Breese caught Bhullar with a stiff straight left hand early in the first round and dropped him with a powerful jab moments later. He followed him to the ground and finished the fight with ground and pound.
WINNER: Tom Breese by TKO at 1:42 of Round 1
It’s very telling of a fighter’s power and boxing ability when they finish the fight with a jab. Breese has had his ups and downs in the UFC, but he has remained a typically exciting fighter, and this was exactly the performance he needed to get himself back on track. He is now 5-2 in the UFC.
The main card began with a graphic in memory of Eddie Van Halen.
YOUSSEF ZALAL (10-2, 146) VS ILIA TOPURIA (8-0, 146) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Zalal ran into some hooks from Topuria early. Topuria brought Zalal down to the ground with a suplex and began to work from top mount. Topuria was looking for an anaconda choke, but Zalal used the cage to avoid it. Unfortunately for Zalal, he moved right into a guillotine attempt, which Topuria turned into another anaconda choke. Remarkably, Zalal escaped the submission yet again and ended the round on his feet. 10-9 Topuria.
Interestingly, Zalal wanted to get the fight back to the ground, beginning the second round with a takedown attempt. Topuria defended it and landed several elbows to the side of the head. Once they separated, Topuria was continuously catching Zalal whenever he moved in. Topuria took him down and transitioned to half guard. He began to search for a mounted guillotine, but couldn’t lock it in. 20-18 Topuria.
Topuria quickly took Zalal back to the ground to begin the third round. He transitioned to his back and began to look for a rear-naked choke, but Zalal fought out of it. Topuria shot for a takedown, and Zalal attempted to counter with a guillotine, but Topuria popped out of it and began to work from half guard. He took his back yet again, and Zalal somehow shook him off yet again. Zalal began to walk him down as they returned to the feet, but was taken down yet again by an exhausted Ilia Topuria. I scored the fight 30-27 Topuria.
WINNER: Ilia Topuria by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
After a trilogy of vicious knockouts preceding this fight, this was a very fun grappling heavy fight between Topuria and Zalal. Topuria is clearly a high-level grappler and showcased his ability on the ground here in his UFC debut.
ALAN BAUDOT (8-1, 254) VS TOM ASPINALL (8-2, 252) – HEAVYWEIGHT
Baudot threw several spinning attacks in the opening minute, looking to catch Aspinall as he attempted to close the distance. Aspinall took Baudot down with a double leg against the cage and began to quickly throw down left hands until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Tom Aspinall by TKO at 1:35 of Round 1
All but two of Aspinall’s fights have ended in the first round, and it’s not hard to see why. He is quick for his size and has very good boxing. Heavyweight is quietly filling up with prospects, and I could see Aspinall breaking into the top fifteen soon. In his post-fight interview, Aspinall called out Sergey Spivak, his originally scheduled opponent for this card.
MARKUS PEREZ (12-3, 186) VS DRICUS DU PLESSIS (14-2, 186) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Perez rushed across the octagon to close the distance. He landed powerful kicks to the leg and body, and Du Plessis was continuously on the back foot, looking to counter. Du Plessis began to land some leg kicks of his own as the round continued. Du Plessis dropped Perez with a short-left hook as Perez was seemingly going for a spinning back elbow of sorts, and Perez was out.
WINNER: Dricus Du Plessis by KO at 3:22 of Round 1
Du Plessis looked a bit uncomfortable to begin the fight, and the commentators speculated that he might have the “debut jitters”, but just as they were discussing it, Du Plessis picked up the knockout. He was overjoyed with the finish, and in his post-fight interview, he asked for a top twenty opponent in his next fight.
BEN ROTHWELL (38-12, 265) VS MARCIN TYBURA (19-6, 263) – HEAVYWEIGHT
Rothwell began the fight with a quick combination of punches. Rothwell’s game plan was to close the distance and overwhelm Tybura with his boxing, which led to several exchanges in the pocket throughout the fight. Tybura found some success with his jab throughout the fight, but Rothwell’s output this round was impressive, especially in comparison to his last three fights. Tybura connected with some strong uppercuts coming out of the clinch. 10-9 Rothwell.
The fighters continued to brawl in the second round. Both men landed body shots. They showed the striking stats halfway through the round, and the numbers were just about even, although Rothwell had thrown over a hundred more strikes. Tybura was landing some very nice counterstrikes in this round, and that was really the difference-maker. 19-19 going into the third.
Rothwell had clearly slowed by the third round, and Tybura was the fresher fighter by this point. Still, Rothwell continued to march forward throwing hooks, but he was missing more and more of them. Tybura landed an uppercut and proceeded to take Rothwell down near the cage. He peppered him with strikes from Rothwell’s guard for the remainder of the round and cut Rothwell open with elbows. I scored the fight 29-28 Tybura.
WINNER: Marcin Tybura by unanimous decision (29-27 all)
This fight was a slugfest of short hooks in the pocket, and both fighters fought with impressive volume for heavyweights. As the fight wore on, Rothwell was tired, and Tybura began to avoid the vast majority of Rothwell’s shots. As Rothwell’s accuracy dipped, Tybura began to really punish him with counter shots and earned a 10-8 round from the judges in the third for his ground and pound. He asked for a top ten opponent in his post-fight interview. Tybura is now on a three-fight win streak.
EDSON BARBOZA (20-9, 145.5) VS MAKWAN AMIRKHANI (16-4, 146) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Lots of feints from both fighters in the opening minutes of this one. Halfway through the round, it would be fair to say that not much had happened. Barboza began to attack the body and stuffed a takedown attempt from Amirkhani. Barboza caught Amirkhani with a powerful jab, and another powerful kick to the body to end the round. 10-9 Barboza.
Amirkhani opened up the second round with a slick right hand. Barboza continued to attack the body, digging in the right hand. Barboza dropped Amirkhani with a lightning-fast right hand and followed him to the ground. They returned to the feet, and Barboza defended a pair of takedown attempts from Amirkhani. Barboza was bleeding near his left eye, and Amirkhani was bleeding from the nose. Barboza dropped Amirkhani with the same right hand he landed earlier, but couldn’t capitalize on it, and time expired after Amirkhani got a last-second takedown. With two knockdowns, I thought this was clearly a 10-8 round for Barboza.
Barboza stuffed Amirkhani’s first takedown attempt of the round, but Amirkhani got him down on his second try. With three minutes remaining in the round, Amirkhani began to work from Barboza’s guard. Barboza did a good job of keeping him from advancing or landing any big ground and pound strikes. They were stood up with a minute remaining in the round and Barboza immediately caught him with a hard-left hook. Barboza hurt him with that right hand and rocked him with a quick combination of strikes. Barboza stole this round in the final minute, and I scored the fight 30-26 Barboza.
WINNER: Edson Barboza by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 29-28)
Barboza was clearly the better striker, and whenever he let loose, he did a ton of damage to Amirkhani. How two judges didn’t see the second round as a 10-8 is beyond me (the 29-28 was insane), but the right fighter won on every scorecard at least. Barboza has had some very close losses recently, and he really needed this win against the unranked Amirkhani. He asked for a top-ranked opponent, but featherweight has been in a bit of a logjam for years now, so it’s hard to say what’s next for him. Regardless, he is one of the most consistently entertaining fighters in history, and whenever he fights, it’s must-watch MMA.
MARLON MORAES (23-6-1, 136) VS CORY SANDHAGEN (12-2, 136) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Sandhagen was landing solid leg kicks to begin the fight, and Moraes returned the favor with a big one of his own. Both men were throwing a wide variety of strikes early. Moraes landed a powerful right hand and Sandhagen responded with a heavy uppercut. Sandhagen was doing a good job of avoiding Moraes’s biggest shots but took some of the heavier ones well. Sandhagen connected with a pair of body kicks, as well as a step-in knee to the torso. Moraes ended the round with a takedown.
About a minute into the second round, Sandhagen yelled out that Moraes was suffering from a fractured orbital, and proceeded to throw a wild spinning heel kick that dropped Moraes. Sandhagen gave him no time to recover, swarming him with ground and pound strikes, and the fight was quickly stopped.
WINNER: Cory Sandhagen by TKO at 1:03 of Round 2
This was an insane finish to one of the best cards of the year. Moraes is the fighter with the most highlight finishes in the division, and Sandhagen caught him with a spinning head kick to end the fight. After his disappointing performance against Aljamain Sterling, this was exactly what Sandhagen needed to keep himself in title contention, and on any other night, this would have been the highlight of the night. Sandhagen called for a fight against T.J. Dillashaw or Frankie Edgar in his post-fight interview.