UFC Fight Night: Cory Sandhagen prepared to be patient for title shot after stoppage win in Abu Dhabi

No 4-ranked bantamweight delivers second round knockout of Marlon Moraes

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Cory Sandhagen scored a highlight-reel, headline victory at an epic UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning to move into title contention – although he said he was willing to wait for his shot at the gold.

The talented bantamweight, now 13-2 in professional mixed martial arts, rebounded in spectacular fashion from a first UFC loss earlier this year, landing a wheel kick against No 1-ranked contender Marlon Moraes at Flash Forum to secure a second-round TKO.

Sandhagen had won seven straight bouts before an 88-second loss to Aljamain Sterling in June, but proved his championship credentials in the co-main event in the capital. The show represented the third of five taking place on “Return to Fight Island”.

With bantamweight champion Petr Yan expected to face Sterling next – the fight has yet to be confirmed – Sandhagen said he was prepared to take his time towards the title, with a match-up against former champions Frankie Edgar or TJ Dillashaw a priority.

However, Sandhagen insisted he would be ready to go for the belt should the opportunity arise.

“Definitely … because I think I’m probably the No 1 guy should one of those guys get hurt,” he told reporters at the post-event press conference. “But I would feel really bad if they did me and Yan and they did that to Sterling.

“That being said, it’s a dog-eat-dog sport and if they give me that shot, I’m taking that shot. But it should be Sterling and Yan, and then the only other two guys that have an argument are Frankie and TJ, so one of those guys [for me] before they end up fighting each other.

“Hopefully I’m not just this little name after this. Hopefully I have some pull in this sport. Because that’s where I feel I’ve been: they’re giving me really good fights, but if I called someone out I never felt it was going to get a lot of juice. But I got some juice tonight.”

Heading into the clash as the division’s No 4-ranked challenger, Sandhagen emerged from a back-and-forth first round with gusto. At one point before his finish he could be heard yelling that he had broken Moraes’ orbital bone. Sandhagen swiftly concluded the contest with that memorable kick to take one of four "Performance of the Night" bonuses.

“I hurt him with a couple of body shots, I kicked him in the head pretty good and I saw swelling right off the bat, which usually means an orbital break," Sandhagen said. "So I was going to attack that side.

"I knew he would be wary about the body shots - I know he heard my corner say something about that too – so I went to the head afterwards.”

Barbosa dominates Amirkhani

In the co-main event, Edson Barboza dominated Makwan Amirkhani to win via unanimous decision and snap a three-fight losing streak.

The Brazilian, who lost to Paul Felder last year at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi, knocked down his opponent multiple times to capture a first triumph since December 2018. It was also Barboza’s first victory since dropping down to featherweight earlier this year.

“I’m very happy to get my ‘W’,” he said. “I fought well, not a lot of risk in the fight, feel great. I’m ready to fight as soon as possible.

“If you see everyone in the top six, top seven, it’s great fighters. Imagine me against Calvin Kattar, me against [former champion Max] Holloway, me against Yair [Rodriquez], all those are going to be a great fight.”

Elsewhere on an action-packed card, British heavyweight prospect Tom Aspinall produced a second successive first-round win to move 2-0 in the UFC. The Englishman, who powered to a 45-second victory on promotional debut at the inaugural Fight Island in July, dispatched late stand-in Alan Baudot via a TKO.

“It was a lot easier this time, but I didn’t find it too difficult the first time to be honest,” Aspinall said.

The moment of the event was produced by Joaquin Buckley, though, when his spinning head-kick laid out cold Impa Kasanganay in the second round of their encounter.

The UFC quickly labelled the finish the “most unbelievable KO” in company history, with the accompanying video on social media soon becoming its most retweeted and most liked of all time.

Understandably, Buckley received a Performance of the Night bonus.

“It was just open,” he said. “I know I landed flush; I didn’t know if I knocked him out, though, until he locked up and I said it was game over. I train it all the time, the only thing that was different was him holding my leg, but I practice it all the time.”