UFC Struggle Night time takeaways: Cory Sandhagen, head kick KOs steal the present on ‘Struggle Island’

It appeared as if Cory Sandhagen might sense {that a} end was coming.

The ESPN+ broadcast picked up Sandhagen shouting to his nook, “His orbital’s broke” within the second spherical of his struggle with Marlon Moraes on Saturday.

Moments later, wham! A spinning wheel kick from Sandhagen landed on the highest of Moraes’ head, dropping the Brazilian. Sandhagen pounced with floor and pound, forcing a stoppage at 1 minute, 3 seconds left in Spherical 2 of the UFC Struggle Night time most important occasion.

The win was essential for Sandhagen, who had gained seven straight earlier than falling to Aljamain Sterling in June. Now Sandhagen, ranked sixth in ESPN’s bantamweight rankings, is again in title rivalry after ending the second-ranked Moraes.

However Sandhagen wasn’t the one fighter to wow followers on “Struggle Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Throughout the prelims, Joaquin Buckley set the tone for an evening stuffed with knockouts with a memorable spinning again kick KO of Impa Kasanganay. And veteran Edson Barboza snapped a three-fight skid with a convincing win over Makwan Amirkhani.

ESPN’s panel of MMA consultants — Ariel Helwani, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim — takes a more in-depth have a look at Saturday evening’s developments.

What was your takeaway from the primary occasion?

Helwani: Think about for a second that you’re a UFC fighter.

You are in your late 20s and on the cusp of preventing for the title. You are undefeated within the UFC, too.

Then think about struggling the worst lack of not solely your UFC profession however your professional profession, as properly. Submitted in seconds. Devastated. Again to the drafting board.

After which think about your subsequent struggle — the bounce-back struggle — is in opposition to the man who knocked out the man who beat you. This struggle additionally occurs to be your first UFC most important occasion ever.

That is the scenario Cory Sandhagen discovered himself in Saturday evening.

This form of factor hardly occurs within the UFC, by the way in which. Hardly ever, if ever, do you lose convincingly solely to be rewarded with a higher-profile bout.

On Wednesday, Sandhagen advised me he was embarrassed by his loss to Aljamain Sterling in June. He referred to as his efficiency pathetic.

Nicely, he made up for it in a giant means in opposition to the man who knocked out Sterling nearly three years in the past, the previous UFC title contender, Marlon Moraes.

Sandhagen confirmed no in poor health results of the Sterling struggle early on. He was calm and relaxed. He took some large photographs and saved on coming.

After which he nailed probably the greatest finishes of 2020 — a spinning heel kick — to complete off Moraes within the second. This after he identified mid-fight that Moraes apparently broke his orbital bone. Unsure we’d have heard that had this one taken place in a packed area.

Sadly for Sandhagen, and as loopy this sounds, this wasn’t even near the very best end of the evening. That distinction clearly goes to Joaquin Buckley.

But when I do know Sandhagen like I do he could not care much less. He solely needed to show that he’s higher than the man who confirmed up in opposition to Sterling 4 months in the past and that he did in a really large means.

After the struggle, Sandhagen stated the one two fights that make sense for him subsequent are former champions Frankie Edgar or TJ Dillashaw. Keep in mind, Dillashaw’s two-year-suspension is up in January. I like that specific concept. That is a big-time struggle for each males.

And despite the fact that he did not struggle tonight, the most important winner must be Sterling, who has been left in some bizarre state of limbo since his win over Sandhagen. For some cause, the UFC has been reluctant to guide Sterling in a title struggle in opposition to the champion Petr Yan, and Yan even stated insinuated this week on social that they are not offered on Sterling both.

Nicely, there could be no denying Sterling now. Sandhagen’s efficiency solely made his win look higher.

You already know, I reached out to Sandhagen after the Sterling loss. I did not ask for an interview, simply needed to see how he was doing. He is one of many nicest folks I’ve ever met masking this sport, and I felt dangerous for him.

He replied, “All good. No dangerous nights within the workplace at this stage. Some classes solely get realized by hurting.”

Nicely, I believe it is now truthful to say Cory Sandhagen realized a giant lesson (or two) in June and is now a greater fighter due to it.

What’s subsequent for Cory Sandhagen and Marlon Moraes?

Raimondi: Wonderful victory for Sandhagen and an announcement that he’s completely probably the greatest bantamweights on the earth. With that being stated, it is most likely too quickly for Sandhagen to get a title shot, despite the fact that that is what he requested for following his unbelievable spinning wheel kick TKO of Moraes. Aljamain Sterling is rightfully subsequent up for Petr Yan, although the dearth of chatter about that struggle is regarding for Sterling. Sandhagen has misplaced to Sterling, so he has solely gained one struggle in a row after the victory over Moraes on Saturday. There are some attention-grabbing names on the market at bantamweight, which is without doubt one of the deepest divisions within the UFC. Frankie Edgar or Jimmie Rivera would every be intriguing matchups for Sandhagen.

However how about this concept: Sandhagen is the primary struggle again for former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw. After his two-year EPO suspension is full in mid-January, Dillashaw ought to undoubtedly bounce again into the contender dialog. It will most likely be inappropriate to provide somebody coming off a doping ban a right away title shot. However Sandhagen is the subsequent neatest thing. Dillashaw vs. Sandhagen in a bantamweight title eliminator can be a banger — and hopefully a five-round struggle. It will deliver again recollections of Dillashaw and former champ Dominick Cruz, who has been an inspiration for Sandhagen’s putting fashion.

And for Moraes, it is a bizarre spot for him. He was coming in off a win over Jose Aldo that most individuals thought he misplaced. The truth is, Aldo was granted a title shot off that struggle, despite the fact that technically Moraes gained. This one, Moraes takes the “L” outright — a highlight-reel end for Sandhagen — which leaves him shedding some floor within the bantamweight contender race. Now, that does not imply he is achieved. Moraes remains to be one of the harmful males at 135 kilos on the earth, little doubt.

Subsequent up for him needs to be a litmus-test kind of struggle. Ought to Moraes stay in that top-five dialog at bantamweight? Or does he want a step again in competitors? We would discover that out by pitting him in opposition to Pedro Munhoz, who’s coming off a really, very shut August loss to Frankie Edgar. In some methods, Moraes and Munhoz are in an analogous place at bantamweight — coming off shut losses and now oddly on the skin trying in on the higher crust of the division, however just one win away from being there.

What was your first thought while you noticed Joaquin Buckley’s KO?

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Joaquin Buckley may need simply secured the very best knockout of 2020 as he drops Impa Kasanganay with a spinning kick at UFC Struggle Night time.

Wagenheim: Confession: For the time being when Buckley linked together with his kick, I used to be my cellphone. An incoming textual content had distracted me. (Rattling, I hate fight-night texts.) And but I will nonetheless declare that I noticed the knockout, as a result of in my guide a knockout isn’t full till the fighter who will get dropped lands on the ground. And once I heard the broadcasters go “Whoa!” in three-part concord, I appeared again on the TV. And … Kasangaway … was … nonetheless … falling. I’ve by no means seen somebody collapse to the canvas so slooooowly.

My first thought? I hope Kasangaway will get up. (He did, with some help, and appeared in a position to sit upright on his stool.)

My second thought? Let’s examine that once more, so I can relive all of it — the kick that Kasangaway caught, the spinning leap by Buckley, the total facial join, the dazed, open eyes of the one who took the brunt of that connection, the slow-motion descent in actual time, the top bouncing off the canvas, the winner’s walkoff on the similar second because the referee was pouncing ahead, simply in case.

Wow.

On an evening when six fighters authored knockouts, just a few of them fairly spectacular, the opposite 5 needed to accept second finest.

What was the very best end of the evening … apart from the finest one you’ve got ever seen?

Raimondi: The primary 4 fights Saturday had zero finishes. After which the floodgates opened with three KO/TKOs in a row, starting with Buckley’s actually absurd knockout of Kansanganay. Clearly, that one was the very best of the evening. Truly, it was the very best of the 12 months and one of many biggest within the historical past of the game. It should reside on in UFC highlights till the top of time. However there have been different robust finishes, too.

The one which stands out most — apart from Buckley — was, after all, the primary occasion. Sandhagen styled on Moraes with a beautiful spinning wheel kick end. It was nearly like he watched Buckley earlier and bought an concept in his head. Had Sandhagen’s knockout been on some other card, it will most likely be getting love as a Knockout of the Yr contender. However Buckley’s kick was so dang absurd, Sandhagen is nearly overshadowed. He should not be. Sandhagen completed one of many prime guys on the earth at bantamweight in Moraes with a fully epic method, one he apparently honed kicking in inanimate Physique Opponent Bag at house throughout quarantine. Lovely end and coming-out celebration Saturday for Sandhagen.

What had been your ideas on Edson Barboza’s win?

Wagenheim: Boy, did Barboza want this victory. And now that he has it in his again pocket, be careful.

Barboza appeared a bit tentative at the beginning of his struggle with Makwan Amirkhani, and who might blame him? He had misplaced three in a row, 5 of his final six, and at 34 years previous, there’s not much more room for error. So the Brazilian didn’t unleash the total fury of his putting, however what he did ship was sufficient to function a warning to the featherweight division.

The longtime light-weight contender moved right down to 145 kilos in Might and dropped a break up resolution to Dan Ige. It was Barboza’s second straight split-decision loss, proof that even within the midst of a shedding streak he was not precisely getting overmatched. And contemplate the opposite opponents he confronted throughout his skid: 155-pound champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, interim champ Justin Gaethje and contenders Kevin Lee and Paul Felder. A whole lot of fighters wouldn’t fare so properly in operating that gauntlet.

However now that Barboza is again within the win column, count on his go-for-it mentality to return as properly. That may please UFC matchmakers. Will they guide Barboza subsequent in opposition to a top-five featherweight, as he requested in his postfight interview contained in the cage? It is definitely doable, contemplating how the UFC loves to provide large alternatives to fighters who entertain.

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