Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will ask No. 1-ranked bantamweight Marlon Moraes to risk his spot atop the 135-pound ladder against No. 4-ranked Cory Sandhagen, who could very easily jump back into the title hunt by making “Magic” disappear. They’ll get down to business in the UFC Fight Island 5 main event this Sat. night (Oct. 10, 2020) on ESPN+ from inside Flash Forum on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Before that fast-paced clash of styles gets underway, former lightweight standout Edson Barboza looks for his first victory at 145 pounds at the expense of Finnish phenom Makwan Amirkhani.
Before we dive into the main and co-main events, be sure to check out the complete UFC Fight Island 5 preliminary card breakdown, expertly deconstructed by the jet-setting Patrick Stumberg here and here. Fighter-turned-writer-turned-fighter again, Andrew Richardson, did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the main card right here. For the latest “Moraes vs. Sandhagen” odds and betting lines click here.
Let’s get to work …
135 lbs.: Marlon Moraes vs. Cory Sandhagen
“Magic” Marlon Moraes
Record: 23-6-1 | Age: 32 | Betting line: +110
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 6 SUB, 7 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 5’6“ | Reach: 67” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.53 | Striking accuracy: 39%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.69 | Striking Defense: 58%
Takedown Average: 0.46 (25% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 66%
Current Ranking: No. 1 | Last fight: Split-decision win over Jose Aldo
Record: 12-2 | Age: 28 | Betting line: -130
Wins: 4 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 70” | Stance: Switch
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 6.95 | Striking accuracy: 48%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.08 | Striking Defense: 58%
Takedown Average: 1.20 (50% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 33%
Current Ranking: No. 4 | Last fight: Submission loss to Aljamain Sterling
Marlon Moraes comes into this fight as the betting underdog, despite being ranked No. 1 at 135 pounds and holding a knockout victory over Aljamain Sterling, who submitted opponent Cory Sandhagen back in June. Maybe the bookies were unimpressed with Moraes in his (cough) “win” over Jose Aldo at UFC 245, a performance that did nothing to help his cause after getting smoked by Henry Cejudo for the vacant bantamweight strap. That’s not enough for me to discount what Moraes has accomplished en route to the top the division, which includes finishes over perennial contenders Raphael Assuncao and Jimmie Rivera. “Magic” is one of the fastest fighters in the division with knockout power and underrated submissions.
Sandhagen has only been in the promotion for about two years and did an admirable job of working his way up the ladder. I think we were all bummed to see him lose the Frankie Edgar fight because it felt like the right matchup to make; but alas, Sandhagen would instead move on to fight Sterling and got subbed for his efforts. That loss shouldn’t be considered a career killer but we also have to be honest with ourselves when breaking down this fight. Three of Sandhagen’s five UFC wins have come over opponents who are no longer with the promotion and a fourth — Mario Batista — isn’t even ranked in the Top 15. I don’t want to discount his victory over Assuncao who remains a very tough out even at 38, but that’s really all we have to fall back on when talking about Sandhagen’s merits as a top contender.
One of my concerns heading into this fight is the Brazilian’s gas tank. Moraes hasn’t seen a fifth round in over five years and his high-octane offense comes at a cost. I would certainly expect him to be one step ahead for the first half of this fight, then one step behind in the final two frames. The question is whether or not Sandhagen can hang on long enough — or fight smart enough — to keep himself out of danger until then. There just isn’t enough evidence for me to believe he will and I think the time off has helped Moraes put his last two fights in the rear-view mirror. A first-round finish would not surprise me.
Prediction: Moraes def. Sandhagen by technical knockout
145 lbs.: Edson Barboza vs. Makwan Amirkhani
Record: 20-9 | Age: 34 | Betting line: -260
Wins: 12 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 7 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 4 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.08 | Striking accuracy: 43%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.22 | Striking Defense: 59%
Takedown Average: 0.46 (44% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 80%
Current Ranking: No. 14 | Last fight: Split-decision loss to Dan Ige
Makwan “Mr. Finland” Amirkhani
Record: 16-4 | Age: 31 | Betting line: +220
Wins: 1 KO/TKO, 11 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 5’10“ | Reach: 72” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 1.55 | Striking accuracy: 46%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 1.51 | Striking Defense: 47%
Takedown Average: 2.73 (50% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 57%
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Submission win over Danny Henry
Edson Barboza was at one time ranked as high as No. 3 in the lightweight division, just one spot behind then-contender Khabib Nurmagomedov. As luck (and good matchmaking) would have it, the Brazilian went to war with “The Eagle” and was summarily destroyed. That bout sent Barboza into a 1-5 tailspin that knocked him out of the Top 10 and into the featherweight division, where he failed to grind out a win over Dan Ige. As he approaches his 35th birthday, it’s time to start asking some difficult questions about the future of Barboza, who has some of the most sensational knockouts in all of combat sports. That includes his spinning wheel kick over Terry Etim, along with his flying knee opposite Beneil Dariush. If Barboza had any kind of offensive wrestling he would probably be champion by now.
Makwan Amirkhani comes into this fight as almost a 2-to-1 underdog which really surprised me, not only because of Barboza’s recent struggles, but also because of “Mr. Finland’s” success inside the cage. Since joining the promotion back in early 2015, Amirkhani is 6-2 with four nasty finishes. I’m not making a big fuss over last year’s third-round loss to Shane Burgos because “The Hurricane” is also 6-2 and an outstanding talent. If there is a concern heading into this bout, offensively speaking, it’s definitely the stand-up. You don’t need to be a mathematician to figure out that one knockout and 11 submissions makes someone a ground fighter, so the onus is on Amirkhani to get this fight to the floor before Barboza can find his range. That may be easier said than done when you consider how well the Brazilian shucks off takedowns from opponents not named Khabib.
I hate to use those cliches like “styles make fights” but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Barboza is going to be looking for the knockout and Amirkhani will be trying to get this fight south where he can work for a submission. I am not alone in thinking Barboza won his featherweight debut against Ige and now that he’s got the weight cut licked, this performance should be even better than his first. As crafty as “Mr. Finland” has been inside the cage, it’s fair to say he’s yet to face a striker with the chops of Barboza, who not only has the speed and the power, but also the timing to make this bout a nightmare. Without a decent jab or outside kick to get the Brazilian’s respect, I’m not sure how Amirkhani plans to weasel his way inside to lock up. That means we’re likely to get a 15-minute shooting gallery that has Barboza firing at will. It’s just a matter of whether or not Amirkhani has the beard to stay afloat.
Prediction: Barboza def. Amirkhani by unanimous decision
Remember, the rest of the UFC Fight Island 5 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Island 5 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Island 5 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the complete UFC Fight Island 5 fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.