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UFC Fight Island 5: Moraes vs. Sandhagen - Fights to Make

All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest event, UFC Fight Island 5, on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

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Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It wasn’t a card packed with name veterans, but this Saturday’s ‘Fight Island’ event delivered in ways few UFC cards ever do. Joaquin Buckley set a new standard for exhilarating one-shot knockouts. Cory Sandhagen delivered a performance to absolutely seal his contender status at 135 lbs. And Edson Barboza finally got a chance to really let his striking shine on the way to a dominant decision.

So, is there any clear path to the belt for Sandhagen if the UFC won’t book Sterling vs. Yan? Does it even matter who Buckley faces next? Just get the man a fight. And is there any room in the top 5 at featherweight for Barboza off his latest victory?

To answer those questions – and a few other things, too – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights.


In a just world, Sandhagen has punched his ticket to a title fight. Only, in doing so, he’s calling for the winner of a bout that hasn’t even been booked yet. And, if hijinks ensue (such as Henry Cejudo coming back) then Sterling vs. Yan may not get booked at all. Which leaves Sandhagen in a ridiculous place of being neither the top contender, nor having any way to immediately become it—at least not while keeping any semblance of structure to the UFC’s rankings dynamic.

At the post fight presser, Sandhagen seemed to suggest that he’d be open to fighting TJ Dillashaw or Frankie Edgar before getting to the belt. And given the position he’s in, I think a fight against Dillashaw would absolutely be the best possible option. A win over the former champ might even leapfrog him over Sterling if the UFC just refuses to give AlJo any chance at being a contender. And if Dillashaw comes back after two years suspended and beats Sandhagen, then it’s impossible not to see him as right back in among the division’s best. Cory Sandhagen vs. TJ Dillashaw seems like the perfect high stakes bout for both men right now.


After losses to Cejudo and Sandhagen (and with Petr Yan sitting as champ) there appears to be a very real mountain to climb for Moraes against technical, high-volume strikers. One that I’m not sure his power counter-punching and hard kicking style is particularly well suited to deal with all on its own. He just gives too much space and momentum to fighters whose M.O. is to see every passing minute as an opportunity to add more pressure and set up more layers of offense. How he can solve that problem? I’m not particularly sure.

However, as a nice midpoint, how about setting Moraes up against a striker who offers a lot of volume, but not necessarily a whole lot of diversity? Another hard-punching banger from Brazil. A man who is sure to march into the teeth of Moraes’ offense and give him a war. Pedro Munhoz vs. Marlon Moraes can headline any Fight Night card it wants.


Exactly the win Barboza was supposed to get here. He was just too fast, too tough to take down, and too persistent standing for Amirkhani’s chancy, dynamic takedown and striking game. It’s too bad he didn’t get the finish he wanted, but chasing headlock chokes with Amrikhani was probably a mistake. After the win he called for a top 5 opponent, but I’m not at all sure just who that might be. Are Yair Rodriguez and Zabit Magomedsharipov still going to fight one another? Ever? Because if not, then either of them could go toe-to-toe with Barboza and it’d be some amazing action violence. Since I do get the feeling that bout’s gonna be remade, though, why not go with Calvin Kattar instead? Yeah he’s not in the top 5, but Calvin Kattar vs. Edson Barboza feels like a fight I absolutely have to see. Especially given the problems Kattar’s had with low kicks in the past.


A hard bitten win for Marcin Tybura. Faced with a huge amount of volume from Rothwell early, Tybura champed down on his mouthpiece, rode out the bad spots, and slowly turned the tide for an exhausting three round decision. He’s clearly a top-15 caliber heavyweight still, even if it may be that he never crosses over from there into the top 10. It’s too bad that Blagoi Ivanov is coming off two losses, because that’s probably about the perfect next step for both men to prove they’re ready for a tougher fight. If Tanner Boser beats Andrei Arlovski, then he’d also make a great next fight for ‘Tybur’. But, there’s also a bout between Alexander Romanov and Marcos Rogerio de Lima coming up. If de Lima wins that, then it’s a chance for a longtime veteran to climb the ladder and make a run. And if Romanov wins, then Tybura could be a fitting next step to see if the prospect is a future contender. Marcin Tybura vs. the Romanov/’Pezao’ winner.


A quick, dominant win for Aspinall. Very much the performance he was expected to have against a somewhat underwhelming opponent on fairly short notice. His boxing was clean and the switch-up to some wrestling was a nice wrinkle to add. After the bout, he called for the UFC to re-book his planned fight with Sergei Spivac. Not a bad match-up if the UFC wants to go that way, but I’d much rather see Aspinall take on Chase Sherman. Sherman has shown himself to be a capable volume boxer, especially after his stint in bare knuckle. Seems like that would be a really great next challenge for Aspinall. Someone who can possibly take his best shots, stand in, and return them. Sherman vs. Aspinall should be a fun boxing match in 4oz gloves.


A badly needed victory for Tom Breese, who was – at one point – one of welterweight’s brightest prospects. He’s only fought three times since 2016 however, and his bout against Brendan Allen rasied more questions than answers. This time, however, he looked smooth and fast on the feet. He tee’d off consistently on Bhullar, before dropping him with that jab that ended the fight. Time for another, more experienced challenge then. Andrew Sanchez had a similar bounce back of form, recently, beating Wellington Turman with a dramatically improved boxing game. A fight between Breese and Sanchez seems like the perfect meeting of two men who have struggled to find consistency against better opponents. Time to book it.


There are few words to describe just how well Joaquin Buckley showed up for this fight. Not only did he take the first round through some persistent power punching, but his constant willingness to throw tight, controlled strikes with fight ending potential never let Kasanganay really settle into a rhythm. Then there’s that caught kick into the spinning KO that’s sure to play a spot in UFC highlight reels for years to come. That was amazing. Get Buckley another middleweight action fight, get it for him ASAP. Someone like Andre Muniz, Jordan Wright, or maybe even Karl Roberson. Or instead, what about Punahele Soriano? The Hawaiian is 7-0 and coming off a 2019 KO of Oskar Piechota. Seems like a prime time for two finishers to face off in a middleweight war. Soriano vs. Buckley would be a legit ‘don’t blink’ fight.


A fantastic performance from Chikadze who, for once, didn’t hit a cardio wall hard in round 3. His left body kick to left hook game was on point all night, and he carved Morales up with low kicks early to stop the Venezuelan from building any momentum. He’s proving himself to be a top quality action fighter for the featherweight division and has run out a surprising 4-0 record in his young UFC career. Time to really start taking some steps up in competition. Fights with the likes of Movsar Evloev, Grant Dawson, or Daniel Pineda would all be pretty excellent. Of those, I think a fight with Pineda would be the most fun. A strong, durable veteran with a finish-focused game in every area. Someone who can land his own shots standing, and take the fight to the mat if needed. A real test for Chikadze’s power kickboxing style. Pineda vs. Chikadze would be a thriller.

OTHER BOUTS: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Nik Lentz, Ben Rothwell vs. Ilir Latifi, Dricus du Plessis vs. Jordan Wright, Markus Perez vs. Jack Marshman, Alan Baudot vs. Roque Martinez, Ilia Topuria vs. Lerone Murphy, Youssef Zalal vs. Mike Trizano, KB Bhullar vs. Maki Pitolo, Chris Daukaus vs. Carlos Felipe, Rodrigo Nascimento vs. Raphael Pessoa, Impa Kasanganay vs. Jordan Williams, Tony Kelley vs. Trevin Jones, Ali AlQaisi vs. Tony Gravely, Omar Morales vs. Herbert Burns, Tracy Cortez vs. Melo/Moras winner, Stephanie Egger vs. Shanna Young, Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Albazi/Paiva winner, Bruno Silva vs. Molina/Adashev loser

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