The UFC is back, as they continue their slate of action on Fight Island. Headlining the card is two of the very best Bantamweight’s on the planet, as former title challenger Marlon Moraes takes on contender Corey Sandhagen. While it’s been nearly a year since we last seen Moraes fight, his position as the number one ranked Bantamweight in the UFC remains. As for Sandhagen, a first round submission defeat to Aljamain Sterling halted a seven fight win streak – five of which came inside the Octagon. While Sandhagen lost footing in his quest for the title, he is certainly a win over Moraes away from being back in the mix. This fight is important and features two of the best the division has to offer. It’s most certainly not one you should miss!
UFC Fight Island 5 Main Card on ESPN+ (8 p.m. ET):
135 lbs.: Marlon Moraes vs. Cory Sandhagen – What a fantastic main event, as two of the very best in the Bantamweight division face off in an all important fight. Marlon Moraes enters this fight a winner of his last outing, which was a controversial decision nod over Jose Aldo. Despite the controversial nature of it, Moraes is in my opinion the best Bantamweight in the UFC. With excellent striking, and legit knockout power – Moraes is one of the most dangerous fighter’s in the UFC. The first two rounds, are where Moraes is at his very best – so warding off an initial storm is key to beating him.
Another key is volume striking, which Corey Sandhagen is among the very best in the UFC. If Sandhagen can impose his pace on Moraes, the later this fight goes – the more the fight favors the Team Elevation product. With excellent cardio and a solid chin, Sandhagen is a handful for any fighter – and a potential nightmare in a five round fight. The one glaring weakness of Sandhagen, is his grappling and takedown defense. While Sandhagen got away with giving up four takedowns against Raphael Assuncao, Aljamain Sterling made him pay.
As for a prediction, I liken Moreas in this fight. I believe that while Moraes has five round experience, his cardio has taken somewhat of a hit of late. That could be a real issue the later this fight goes, but I believe it doesn’t go past three rounds. Moraes is going to implement his heavy leg kicks to slow down the attack of Sandhagen. A mix in of takedowns is possible by Moraes too, more so to keep Sandhagen’s guessing – while lowering his stance for a headkick. In the end, I believe the leg kicks are going to add up and leave Sandhagen vulnerable to a finishing blow. So with that, give me ‘Magic’ to win via knockout.
145 lbs.: Edson Barboza vs. Makwan Amirkhani – I don’t understand why Makwhan Amirkhani took this fight on short notice. I get that Edson Barboza has lost ‘lost’ three fights in a row and five of his last six. I get that Barboza is a name. However, stylistically this is an awful fight for Amirkhani – especially on short notice. If cardio wasn’t an already glaring issue, the short notice nature of it isn’t going to make it better by any means.
Amirkhani is a grappler, with decent striking. His bread and butter is taking the fight to the mat, where his submission game is strong. Problem is, Barboza has great takedown defense and is no slouch on the ground. The lack of grappling by Barboza, is due to his preference of striking. With a dynamic arsenal on the feet, Barboza is among the best strikers in the UFC. I expect Barboza to shrug off any grappling by Amirkhani, and put on an absolute striking clinic. The later this fight goes, the worse it’s going to be for the gas guzzler Amirkhani. Perhaps this fight end via a leg kick stoppage or some spectacular roundhouse knockout – either way, give me Barboza via TKO.
265 lbs.: Ben Rothwell vs. Marcin Tybura – It’s hard to believe, but after a suspension that cost Ben Rothwell three years, he is on now on the verge of winning three consecutive fights. In fact, I’ll go a little further and say that he’s going to accomplish that feat. While Marcin Tybura is a good striker, he lacks durability and power at Heavyweight. Ben Rothwell excels in both durability and power, while also having a sneaky submission game should Tybura attempt to grapple. In the end, the pressure, pace and power of Rothwell is going to break Tybura eventually – resulting in a TKO victory for the Wisconsin native.
170 lbs.: Dricus Du Plessis vs. Markus Perez – While fighters from EFC haven’t exactly fared well in the UFC, Dricus Du Plessis seems to be of a different breed. Du Plessis has also taken his talent to KSW, where he has fought and beaten tough foes. If anything, the experience is certainly there heading into the UFC. Markus Perez is a fun fighter to have in the UFC, just not one that shows a real strength in any area’s. Hell, for a guy with a solid ground game – he showed very little of it against Eryk Anders. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that the well rounded Du Plessis who started Judo and Kickboxing at young age is my pick. The athleticism alone is going to make it tough for Perez to get anything going. So with that, give me Du Plessis to win via TKO.
265 lbs.: Tom Aspinall vs. Alan Baudot – This is your typical showcase fight for Tom Aspinall, as Alan Baudot is a Light Heavyweight moving up to fight a fighter whom clearly has all the advantages. So with that, give me Aspinall to win via knockout.
145 lbs.: Ilia Topuria vs. Youssef Zalal – With three UFC wins under his belt, Youssef Zalal is starting to gain a footing in the Featherweight division. Zalal is well rounded and has shown a real strength in attacking his foes weakness. If Zalal see’s his opponent as a threat on the feet, expect him to wrestle. Same thing if the opponent shows a strength in wrestling, as Zalal will keep it on the feet. Fight IQ like that is going to aide Zalal in his UFC career. As for Ilia Topuria, the man’s an animal on the mat. Of his eight victories, seven have come via submission. He’s a pure finisher and his striking is beginning to evolve.
As for a prediction, give me Topuria. The one thing Zalal is lacking, is real finishing power. I expect Topuria to have the full 15 minutes to catch Zalal in some type of submission. Perhaps his hands surprise too, but give me Topuria to win via submission.
UFC Fight Island 5 Prelims Card on ESPN+ (5 p.m. ET):
185 lbs.: Tom Breese vs. K.B. Bhullar – I’m curious to see what Tom Breese enters the octagon. It’s beginning to seem like his mental state weighs over him in fights. If Breese comes out confident, then expect the best version of himself. If not, this fight is going to get dicey. In my opinion, moving up in weight is going to aide Breese tremendously. I also believe that while K.B. Bhullar looks talented, the short notice nature of this fight is going to affect him the later this fight goes. So with that, give me Breese to win via decision.
265 lbs.: Chris Daukaus vs. Rodrigo Nascimento – This fight your classic striker vs. grappler vs. unknown cardio. From what I’ve seen, I liken the grappling of Rodrigo Nascimento to get this fight to the mat and do what he does best – submit foes.
185 lbs.: Joaquin Buckley vs. Impa Kasanganay – I’m on the fence in this fight. I see Impa Kasanganay as a potential contender at Middleweight. The man’s got excellent athleticism and is fairly well rounded. In this fight in particular, it would be wise to use his wrestling advantage. However, Kasanganay has showed strong striking chops too, with the ability throw volume and power. My fear is that Kasanganay is going to try and go toe to toe with Joaquin Buckley. And while I do favor him in the striking department, I also recognize that Buckley has legit knockout power. Throw in the fact that Buckley’s coming into this fight with a camp, and I expect an even better version of the fighter that went toe to toe with a rangy Kevin Holland. So with that, give me the upset – as I have Buckley winning via knockout.
135 lbs.: Ali Alqaisi vs. Tony Kelley – While Ali Alqaisi probably deserved the nod in his UFC debut over Irwin Rivera, he didn’t exactly show strengths in any one area. In fact, Alqaisi struggled to wrestle and looked rocked several times on the feet. As for Tony Kelley, while his UFC debut didn’t result in a victory – his durability, heart and will to win showed the potential of an exciting addition to Bantamweight division. With pressure and volume striking, the only thing holding Kelley back – is the lack of wrestling. Kelley’s takedown defense is terrible, but his ability to get back up does soften that weakness a bit. As for a prediction, while I expect Alqaisi will get this fight to the mat, I don’t see him holding down Kelley for three rounds. On the feet, Kelley is going to swarm, hurt and finish Alqaisi at some point. So with that, give me Kelley to win via TKO.
145 lbs.: Giga Chikadze vs. Omar Morales – There is a possibility that this could be your fight of the night. Two rangy strikers, who use their entire arsenal. While Giga Chikadze is the more decorated striker, with a vast kickboxing background – it’s Omar Morales who I favor on the feet. I believe that Morales makes it a point to chop down his opponents with leg kicks, while Chikadze keeps distance and looks to pop off counter strikes. It’s no secret Chikadze needs to work on his takedown defense, as he endured takedowns in his first two UFC fights – edging both out via split decision. However, I don’t expect Morales to attack that weakness, as I see this fight entirely taking place on the feet. On the heels of more volume and leg kicks, give me Morales to win via decision.
135 lbs.: Tracy Cortez vs. Stephanie Egger – Tracy Cortez is quietly climbing the ranks, and delivered a fairly dominant UFC debut win over Vanessa Melo. While it’s been nearly a year since that fight, Cortez looks ready to build off that victory. Stephanie Egger is a judoka, who transitioned into mixed martial successfully thus far. With five victories, four of which come inside the distance, Egger is nice addition to the Bantamweight division. As for this fight, Cortez has fought better opposition and is evolving into a special talent. With seven consecutive victories, and solid wrestling, I expect Cortez to cruise to a decision victory over Egger.
125 lbs.: Bruno Silva vs. Tagir Ulanbekov – Can Bruno Silva catch a break? Silva is two fights into the UFC, without a win, and he now he gets a training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov in Tagir Ulanbekov. Expect a heavy dose of wrestling from Ulanbekov, with the possibility of a submission. Given the durability of Silva, I’ll say that he falls defeat via decision.