Cory Sandhagen reached deep into his bag of tricks for Marlon Moraes.
The resilient Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight contender rebounded from his June 6 submission loss to Aljamain Sterling and did so in jaw-dropping fashion, as he brought down Moraes with a spinning wheel kick and follow-up punches in the UFC Fight Night 179 main event on Saturday at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Sandhagen drew the curtain 1:03 into Round 2, bolstering his resume with a long-sought signature performance.
Moraes failed to successfully navigate the height and reach disadvantages with which he was presented. Sandhagen piled up points with kicks to the body and legs, mixed in a takedown to keep the former World Series of Fighting champion off-balance and exacted a visible toll with stinging jabs from both hands. Less than a minute into the second round, Sandhagen pressed forward, planted his feet and called down the thunder with a wheel kick to the side of the American Top Team rep’s head. “Magic Marlon” somersaulted backward and absorbed a quick burst of punches before referee Marc Goddard called for the stoppage.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night 179 “Moraes vs. Sandhagen,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Cory Sandhagen vs. T.J. Dillashaw: Sandhagen was brilliant against Moraes, outlanding him by close to a 3-to-1 margin before executing a magnificent finish in the second round of their high-stakes showdown. The 28-year-old Aurora, Colorado, native now finds himself in something of a holding pattern, as he waits for matchmakers to announce a seemingly inevitable bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and the aforementioned Sterling for late 2020 or early 2021. Should injury or illness befall Sterling, Sandhagen figures to be next in the order of succession. Dillashaw, a two-time bantamweight champion, was suspended for two years following a failed drug test in 2019 and will be eligible to return in January. He has won his last four fights at 135 pounds and continues to cast a shadow over the division.
Edson Barboza vs. Arnold Allen-Jeremy Stephens winner: It turns out—to the surprise of no one—that Barboza’s skills play quite well at featherweight. The onetime Ring of Combat champion made his second appearance at 145 pounds in the three-round co-headliner, where he outstruck Makwan Amirkhani to a unanimous decision and liberated himself from a three-fight losing streak. All three cageside judges scored it for Barboza: 30-26, 30-27 and 29-28. The Brazilian was credited with two knockdowns in the second round, as Amirkhani hit the deck on the end of two lightning-bolt right hands; and while he denied Barboza’s bids to finish, the message had been sent. Allen and Stephens will square off at UFC Fight Night 182 on Nov. 7.
Marcin Tybura vs. Juan Espino: Tybura further distanced himself from back-to-back 2019 defeats to Shamil Abdurakhimov and Augusto Sakai by outmaneuvering an overzealous Ben Rothwell and earning a unanimous verdict in their three-round heavyweight showcase. The former M-1 Global champion carried all three scorecards, drawing 29-27 marks from all three judges. Rothwell uncorked 135 strikes in the first round alone, but his output failed to net a finish and left him depleted across the final 10 minutes. Tybura took over, struck for a takedown in the third round and sealed his latest conquest with damaging ground-and-pound against “Big Ben.” Espino has shown real promise as a 40-year-old late bloomer. He improved to 10-1 at UFC 253, where he submitted Jeff Hughes with a scarf hold on Sept. 26.
Tom Breese vs. Krzysztof Jotko-Makhmud Muradov winner: Talent has never been in doubt with Breese, so perhaps the former can’t-miss prospect has finally begun to put all the pieces into place. The onetime British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion won for the second time in three appearances and rebounded from his Feb. 29 technical knockout loss to Brendan Allen, as he dispatched the previously unbeaten K.B. Bhullar with punches in the first round of their featured middleweight prelim. Breese drew the curtain 1:42 into Round 1—it was the fastest finish of the Team Renegade standout’s career—and moved to 5-2 in the UFC. Jotko and Muradov are scheduled to lock horns at UFC Fight Night 181 on Oct. 31.
Ilia Topuria vs. Damon Jackson: The undefeated Topuria opened some eyes in his successful promotional debut, as he made the most of his opportunity as a short-notice substitution for Seung Woo Choi and outgrappled Youssef Zalal to a unanimous decision in a three-round featherweight feature. All three judges scored it 29-28 for the 23-year-old Spaniard. Topuria held his own in the standup exchanges, executed five takedowns, attempted five submissions and accumulated more than eight minutes of control time. He threw a variety of chokes at Zalal, and while he failed to harvest a finish, his efforts forced the Factory X rep to play defense for much of their encounter. Jackson last competed at UFC Fight Night 178 on Sept. 19, when he rallied to submit Mirsad Bektic with a third-round guillotine choke.