UFC Fight Island 5 was light on recognizable names, but it delivered far more than anyone could have expected. When a spinning wheel kick in the main event is a distant second for best knockout of the night to a spinning kick on the prelims, you know you had a special event take place.
In the main event, Cory Sandhagen bounced back from a submission loss to Aljamain Sterling in a big way when he finished former title challenger Marlon Moraes in the second round of their bantamweight scrap. After the win, Sandhagen endorsed the as yet unbooked fight between champion Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling as the next 135-pound title fight. At the same time, Sandhagen called dibs on the winner of that scrap.
The event also proved to be an effective showcase for Dricus du Plessis, Tom Aspinall, Ilia Topuria, Chris Daukaus and Tagir Ulanbekov.
As for veteran fighters, Tom Breese, Edson Barboza and Marcin Tybura all looked good.
However, the biggest winner of the night was Joaquin Buckley, who put himself on the short list of best knockouts in UFC history for his breathtaking stoppage of Impa Kasanganay.
Read on for all the winners and losers from UFC Fight Island 5.
Cory Sandhagen: The odds of this fight really moved leading up to fight night. Marlon Moraes was the favorite in the opening odds. By the time Moraes and Sandhagen stepped into the cage, the odds favored Sandhagen. The thinking going into the bout was that Sandhagen would keep his distance in the early going and then pick things up later in the fight and beat Moraes with his boxing. The pick was right, but the finish, a spinning head kick in the second stanza, was far from expected.
Sandhagen employed a brilliant game plan in the early going and his confidence grew with each passing second. His confidence was such that it allowed him to take some chances and that spinning kick was a calculated risk that paid huge dividends. The stoppage put Sandhagen back in the win column after a June submission loss to Aljamain Sterling.
Edson Barboza: Barboza’s fight against Makwan Amirkhani was fairly slow until Barboza sat Amirkhani down with a right in the second round. Once he scored that knockdown, Barboza looked more relaxed and confident and had a different bounce in his step. He sat Amirkhani down again with another snapping right and then pursued a guillotine choke. Barboza spent most of the third round on his back on the mat, but after the referee stood up the two fighters inside the last minute of the bout, Barboza once again took control of the scrap with his striking. After the decision win, Barboza said he wanted a top-five ranked opponent in the featherweight rankings.
Marcin Tybura: Tybura fought well against Ben Rothwell. He allowed Rothwell to walk him down for most of the fight and used head movement and counters to score while Rothwell tired himself out by throwing more strikes and moving forward for most of the fight. Then, as the fight wound down, Tybura scored a takedown and looked to land ground strikes that would score points with the judges. Tybura was the more effective statistical fighter in this bout, which he fought in a very controlled and smart manner. Tybura landed 51 percent of his significant strikes as compared to Rothwell’s landing rate of 32 percent.
Dricus du Plessis: During most of the first round of the bout between du Plessis and Markus Perez, the UFC commentary team focused on the alleged octagon jitters that du Plessis was dealing with. That talk lasted right up to the moment he dropped and finished Perez against the cage at the 3:22 mark of the first stanza.
Let’s be honest though. It took du Plessis a bit to look comfortable, but once he charged across the cage and backed up Perez with his punches, he found his footing. A pro since 2013, du Plessis is now 15-2 with 15 stoppage wins. Du Plessis believes he is already a player in the welterweight division. With that kind of confidence, the UFC should see what he has and give him a tough matchup in his next outing. At such a young age, du Plessis has plenty of time to get back in the mix if he loses against a more experienced opponent.
Tom Aspinall: Aspinall moved to 9-2 with a first round TKO win over Alan Baudot on Saturday. The fight, which lasted 95 seconds, was the longest bout of his nine victories. Baudot landed a couple of elbows in the early going. After those strikes hit the mark, Aspinall took the fight to the mat and closed things out with elbows and punches to the head. After the win, the 27-year-old Aspinall said he was in no rush to move up the heavyweight rankings. He noted that he was still young and planned to be in the fight game for the next 10 years. It’s going to be fun to watch Aspinall develop in the next few years. With that in mind, if he keeps scoring first-round stoppage wins, Aspinall might not have much choice of how fast he advances up the rankings of the fairly thin heavyweight division.
llia Topuria: Topuria impressed in his UFC debut. Well, at least for 14 minutes of the fight. The 23-year-old scored a beautiful throw against Youssef Zalal and quickly gained mount at the halfway point of the first round. From there, Topuria strung together submission attempts for the next two minutes. Topuria spent most of the next two round showing off his striking and offensive grappling skills. Topuria ran out of gas late in the third and his body language was not good as the clock ticked down, but I don’t think that will be a concern going forward. After all, this was his first UFC bout and the first time he left the second round.
Tom Breese: Breese has had an up and down run in the UFC. His win over KB Bhullar should serve as a massive confidence builder. The 29-year-old hurt Bhullar with a straight left and moments later Breese connected with a jab that dropped and finished Bhullar. The victory was Breese’s first since he scored a first-round TKO over Dan Kelly in May 2018. A great performance for Breese.
Chris Daukaus: Daukaus moved to 2-0 in the UFC with an impressive first-round knockout. The 31-year-old is not a big heavyweight, but he has fast hands that are packed with power. If he gets a couple more knockout wins, Daukaus could find himself in the rankings in the heavyweight division.
Joaquin Buckley: Buckley made it 100 percent clear that he would not mess around when he faced Impa Kasanganay on Saturday night. He was incredibly aggressive to start the fight. The bout was shaping up to be a fun one when Kasanganay caught Buckley’s kick. Instead of trying to wrench his foot free, Buckley unloaded a spinning kick that caught Kasanganay flush. The impact left Kasanganay limp. His eyes rolled to the back of his head and he slowly tumbled to his back as Buckley celebrated what will go down as one of the most remarkable knockouts in UFC history. Expect to see a lot of Buckley’s stoppage in the future. It would be a crime if that KO does not get added to the video that opens every UFC fight card.
Tony Kelley: Kelley found himself in trouble early against Ali AlQaisi, but he was particularly aware of his position when he was caught in a choke. Kelley remained calm and broke free from the submission attempt and then quickly rang up several submission attempts of his own, including a nasty armbar. Kelley also had good timing on his striking. If there was one negative to take away from Kelley’s performance was his decision to give up on ground striking and pursue a submission on the third stanza after he scored a knockdown. Kelley appears to be someone to watch going forward.
Giga Chikadze: The former kickboxer moved to 4-0 in the UFC with a decision win over Omar Morales, Chikadze remains without a knockout and by the way he fought Morales, that knockout is something Chikadze wants.
Chikadze threw almost every strike with as much power as he could muster. He didn’t use a lot of set-ups for his power strikes and at one point, that allowed Morales to score a takedown. Chikadze was quickly able to get back to his feet, but if he continues to fight for the knockout as he climbs the ranks, Chikadze could find himself on the mat against an opponent who will be much tougher on the ground and that could be a problem for Chikadze.
Chikadze is a powerful striker and he mixes up his targets well. However, he needs to be a bit more relaxed and he needs to stop trying to force the KO.
Bruno Silva: Silva lost a decision to Tagir Ulanbekov in the opening fight of the night, but he was the more impressive competitor in the flyweight bout. He was smart in establishing the calf kick to slow the lanky Ulanbekov and his overall striking was both faster and heavier than that of his opponent. Silva was also impressive in how he fought that takedowns of Ulanbekov. If Ulanbekov got the fight to the mat, Silva did not accept the takedowns, he did all he could to keep Ulanbekov from doing damage on the mat and worked hard to get back to his feet. Silva was also not afraid to shoot for takedowns of his own. Silva might have lost this matchup, but he was incredibly impressive in defeat.
Marlon Moraes: Moraes had a chance to earn himself a second UFC bantamweight title shot had he defeated Cory Sandhagen in the main event. That did not come close to happening. Sandhagen was active with his striking and excellent at making Moraes fight at distance. The end result was that Moraes landed a total of 14 significant strikes before Sandhagen stopped him in the second stanza.
Makwan Amirkhani: Amirkhani started slowly, as if he was perhaps looking for something that never came from Barboza. With five minutes left to score the win, Amirkhani landed a takedown in the early going of the third stanza. However, he could not do much with that advantage and the referee stood the fighters up inside the last minute of the round and Barboza once again took over the fight. In a case of be careful what you wish for, this was a bout Amirkhani requested.
Ben Rothwell: Rothwell’s game plan was to walk down his opponent and score with volume. That worked in the early going, but as the fight wore on, Marcin Tybura took control with his defense and effective striking. Things really took a turn for the worse in the final few minutes of the third stanza when Tybura scored a takedown and bloodied Rothwell on the mat.
Markus Perez: There are times when the desire to be an entertaining fighter don’t pay off. Perez learned that on Saturday when he missed an elbow and ended up flat on his face after his opponent, Dricus du Plessis landed a left. With the loss, Perez falls to 2-4 in the UFC.
Alan Baudot: Baudot’s best moment in his bout opposite Tom Aspinall came when he landed some in close elbows against the cage. The fight did not last long after that. Aspinall took the bout to the mat and landed heavy ground strikes that left the referee no choice but to wave things off.
Youssef Zalal: We found out that Zalal has some solid defensive grappling skills on Saturday when he worked himself out of five submission attempts. He was also the fresher fighter at the end of his matchup against llia Topuria, but he could not capitalize on Topuria running out of gas near the end of the third round. Zalal might have endured his first UFC defeat, but he remains someone to keep an eye on.
KB Bhullar: Bhullar entered his bout opposite Tom Breese with an 8-0 record. He mustered two landed strikes before Breese finished him with a jab. Bhullar had nothing to offer his more experienced opponent.
Rodrigo Nascimento: Nascimento landed one strike before Chris Daukaus knocked him out. There’s not much else to say about Nascimento’s performance.
Impa Kasanganay: UFC president Dana White was high on Kasanganay after he earned a contract on the Dana White Contender Series. Kasanganay was a significant favorite over Joaquin Buckley on Saturday night, but he was brutally knocked out in what was one of the best knockouts in UFC history. The loss was the first of Kasanganay’s career. At 26, it will be important to watch how Kasanganay rebounds from the loss, which will undoubtedly be replayed thousands of times before he fights again.
Ali AlQaisi: AlQaisi had some moments in the first round of his fight against Tony Kelley when he had a deep choke locked in, but after that, Kelley took control of the bout. AlQaisi never gave up on himself and he scored with spinning backfists in the third, but for the final 10 minutes he was working from behind.
Omar Morales: Morales showed a strong chin and some good striking combos in his matchup opposite Gigi Chikadze. He also took advantage of Chikadze over committing on his power strikes at one point. Not a terrible fight from Morales, but he was over-matched.
Stephanie Egger: Egger took her fight against Tracy Cortez on short notice and she did not look UFC ready. Egger’s best moment of the fight occurred when she landed a nice upkick to the face of her lackadaisical opponent. She left herself open to ground strikes while trying to establish a ground game. Egger, who only had six previous MMA fights, needs some time to become a better all-around MMA fighter.
Tracy Cortez: Cortez overwhelmed Stephanie Egger. She had better takedowns, good top control and some aggression with her ground strikes. Overall, this was a solid win for Cortez, but she was far from being tested at any point of the contest.
Tagir Ulanbekov: A teammate of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Ulanbekov was active against Bruno Silva, but he needs some work to compare to his much stronger training partner. Ulanbekov’s game plan was to use his jab to set up his takedowns and then work on the mat. He did a nice job with the jab, but he struggled to establish any dominant ground positions. If Ulanbekov wants to advance up the ranks he needs to use more than a job to set up his takedowns. He also needs to find a way to keep the fight on the mat and put himself in dominant positions. This was not a bad UFC debut for the 29-year-old, but he is still developing.