Marlon Moraes has a steep slope to climb in his quest for another shot at the UFC bantamweight championship.
In this case, the immensity of the challenge is pretty literal as Moraes takes on rangy Cory Sandhagen in Saturday’s UFC Fight Island 5 main event. Standing almost six feet tall, Sandhagen not only brings impressive physical gifts to the cage, but also comparisons to the tall 135-pound Dominick Cruz that marked him as a future title contender.
Whatever the result on Saturday, one would imagine that Moraes and Sandhagen will still have to wait behind No.1 Aljamain Sterling for a shot on Petr Yan. Still, crazier things have happened in the UFC and given that a Yan-Sterling game has yet to be reported, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that an impressive performance could see Moraes or Sandhagen challenge. Yan then; completely unfair to Sterling, yes, but not unreasonable.
The co-headliner features lightweight prop Edson Barboza making his second appearance at 145 pounds and he’s getting to the point where one has to wonder when “Junior” will take a break. Barboza has lost five of his previous six fights, a fit that should be taken with a grain of salt given that some of the names he has faced recently include Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje and Kevin Lee.
Add to the fact that Barboza’s last two fights were narrow split decision losses which he arguably won and it can be seen why the 34-year-old is still heavily favored before going up against Makwan Amirkhani. On the other side of this confrontation, “Mr. Finland ”could win what would be by far the most notable victory of their career if they could upset Barboza.
In another main card action, heavyweight lifer Ben Rothwell kicks off fight # 51 when he meets compatriot Marcin Tybura, Markus Perez welcomes two-time KSW middleweight champion Dricus Du Plessis into the octagon, the best prospect of the heavyweight Tom Aspinall fights short-notice replacement Alan Baudot and Youssef Zalal appear to go 4-0 in 2020 when he faces up-and-coming newcomer Ilia Topuria.
What: UFC Fight Island 5
Or: Yas Island in Abu Dhabi
When: Saturday 10 October. The entire event airs on ESPN +, starting with a preliminary seven-fight card at 5 p.m. ET, followed by a six-fight main card at 8 p.m. ET.
Marlon Moraes vs. Cory Sandhagen
If this fight goes to the championship rounds, it could be a big night for Cory Sandhagen.
“The Sandman” has an elusive striking style that makes him a nightmare to deal with for 25 minutes. He’ll need to be at his peak with Marlon Moraes, one of the most dangerous fighters in the bantamweight division. Sandhagen succumbed to a submission within the first 90 seconds of his last fight against Aljamain Sterling and if he’s not careful it could be another short night for him.
Moraes has such a bad combination of speed and power. It’s hard to imagine Sandhagen being able to stay on the sidelines for five laps, given Moraes’ ability to cut corners. He can finish quickly, but that doesn’t mean Moraes is fighting like he’s in a hurry. It will take its time to uncover the nervous Sandhagen before it opens up at the end of the first round (assuming it lasts that long).
A fighter never wants to give up rounds, but maybe that’s what Sandhagen needs to do to survive Moraes’ opening salvo. It’s a winnable fight on the toes and if Sandhagen can still make his best impression of Dominick Cruz, maybe this is exactly what it takes to outdo Moraes.
Put simply, Moraes has been having issues with finishing his plate lately, so it’s understandable that punters like Sandhagen are heading towards Saturday. I’m not convinced that Moraes at his best is neither the best nor the second best fighter in the world at 135 pounds and I expect him to remind everyone of that status against Sandhagen.
To choose: Moraes
Edson Barboza c. Makwan Amirkhani
At a glance, this is a match between striker and grappler, but there are other dimensions to consider.
Edson Barboza is a fierce fighter able to train opponents in striking duels for 15 minutes as long as he stays focused. He’s released the pedal in the past, which has cost him, and that’s something he can’t afford to do against the explosive Makwan Amirkhani. For Amirkhani, the plan must be to bring down Barboza early, exhaust him and score a submission in the first or early in the second.
As exciting as Amirkhani is to watch, he has faded as the fights progress and if his cardio doesn’t improve and he can’t subdue Barboza it’s going to be an increasing experience. uncomfortable for him. Barboza will cut through Amirkhani’s strut mercilessly, making it difficult to shoot later in the fight. He will also reunite Amirkhani if Mr Finland gets too flashy.
Barboza has always underestimated wrestling and defense against submission, which is bad news for Amirkhani. This fight is expected to reach third with Barboza retiring and winning a convincing decision or ending late.
To choose: Barboza
Ben Rothwell vs. Marcin Tybura
In his last two outings Marcin Tybura has relied heavily on his fight for victories and I’m not sure that will work against Ben Rothwell. “Big Ben” can be taken down, but he can threaten with active ground play and is more agile on the mat than he deserves.
It’s been a while since Tybura had to let go with his hands, which he’ll have to do here to compete with Rothwell. Wisconsinite’s stand-up game isn’t hard to figure out. He will patiently approach Tybura and throw kicks and punches while watching Tybura’s shots. If Tybura is reckless with his entry, Rothwell will gladly attack his neck.
Tybura will want to turn this into a wrestling match and at some point Rothwell is going to find his timing and catch him up with a guillotine choke.
To choose: Rothwell
Markus Perez vs. Dricus Du Plessis
Former KSW middleweight champion Dricus Du Plessis and two-division champion in the promotion of the South African Extreme Fighting Championship, is as decorated as a UFC rookie can be. Stylistically, he had a great game at Markus Perez.
Perez has been inconsistent in five UFC appearances, but he performed as advertised. He’s a strong grappler who’s ready to take chances on his feet and throw unorthodox strikes. Her stand-up is still a work in progress, as her styling has yet to yield great results.
The power advantage goes to Du Plessis, a fellow submission specialist who also has quick hands. His bread and butter are grappling and there might be some fun scrambling in this one, especially with Du Plessis’ aggressiveness. He’s not the type to just hold a position and if he bonds with Perez, he’s going to initiate as much offense as possible. Cardio will be a key factor for both fighters here.
While I don’t think this will be the rash some predict, Du Plessis’ odd strength and nose for the finish should serve him well in his first UFC appearance even if Perez takes him to the dashboards for the first time in his career.
To choose: From Plessis
Tom Aspinall vs. Alan Baudot
At just 27, it’s easy to see why England’s Tom Aspinall is so touted as a prospect in the aging heavyweight division. Despite tipping the scales at around 250 pounds, Aspinall shows incredible quickness for his size. He has a well-rounded skill set with an added emphasis on crisp boxing in his more recent fights.
A victory for Alan Baudot would be a shock. The MMA Factory fighter comes in with just over a week’s notice for Seung Woo Choi and was only in Abu Dhabi to corner his teammate Ciryl Gane. Baudot normally competes at 205 pounds, so the official 254-pound weight he arrived at on Friday is probably not ideal for him. He has legitimate Muay Thai skills and will not give up on height and reach.
Baudot can be upset here if he catches up with Aspinall early, but Aspinall’s strength advantage should make Baudot wary of committing immediately. It’s also possible that Aspinall is targeting Baudot’s lesser wrestling defense. If this one went to the floor, Aspinall has the chops to soften Baudot and pick up a submission.
To choose: Aspinall
Youssef Zalal vs. Ilia Topuria
Barely three fights in his UFC career, 24-year-old Youssef Zalal faces a game of trap.
That’s the best way to describe this match with 23-year-old Ilia Topuria, an undefeated prospect who has already made waves in notable promotions such as Brave Combat Federation, Cage Warriors and Finnish organization CAGE. He has finished all of his fights and has just won the first knockout victory of his career.
Topuria showed a bombshell right in his most recent fight, but he’s a wrestler and submission specialist at heart, the type of opponent who could take Zalal down. Add to that the fact that Topuria is the one with everything to gain here and you have all the qualities of a living dog.
I will always lean towards Zalal as he adapts quickly and has a style that will make it difficult for Topuria to reach him. Zalal is light on his feet, precise and comfortable on the pitch itself. His game plan should be to spread out and brawl. If this remains a standing battle, he will go to Zalal on a walk.
To choose: Zalal
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