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Joaquin Buckley’s KO is what the UFC is all about

Buried down on the undercard of what looked to be a somewhat unremarkable Fight Night the UFC got exactly the kind of performance that defines its brand.

At this point, anyone with even a passing interest in the UFC has probably seen Joaquin Buckley’s nigh-unfathomable KO win over Impa Kasanganay at UFC Fight Island 5: Sandhagen vs. Moraes.

A simple caught kick to the body, the sort of exchange fans have seen time and time again, turned into something infinitely more glorious. A monument to MMA’s evolution and the excitement that this sport can bring in even its most unexpected moments. Go back to the 90s, or even the mid-aughts and that kind of acrobatic move lived purely in fiction. Now here it is, full speed—live and unscripted.

This is the kind of moment that the UFC spends hundreds of hours a year looking to produce. Something that, having seen it, fans will associate not just with Buckley’s fighting prowess, but with those three letters stamped on his trunks, on his gloves, on the canvas, and on the live feed screen. It will likely play on every sports highlight show for the next week, and (if there’s any justice in the world) pop up regularly in the months to come. It’ll find its home in UFC marketing material, along with highlight packages for Fight Pass and ESPN+. Not to mention, of course, providing truth to Dana White’s old adage that it’s the cards fans aren’t excited for that provide the best action.

To steal a metaphor from Phil Mackenzie, the UFC is essentially a diamond mining operation, sluicing rubble through the cage doors in the hopes that an occasional gem pops up. Whether or not Buckley will be something special for the promotion long term remains to be seen, but he’s already created exactly the kind of jewel the UFC is looking for.

As of Monday, a video of Buckley’s highlight put out on UFC Twitter has been viewed over 12 million times. Cory Sandhagen’s incredibly impressive wheel kick TKO of Marlon Moraes in the main event? Just 175k.

But, if a miracle moment like ‘New Mansa’ produced is the ultimate goal of the UFC machine the rewards aren’t built to match. Buckley is one of a whole slew of low-cost, high action fighters brought in to produce just that kind of highlight material at a bargain.

After getting teased with a full $200,000 in bonus money, Buckley will still get an extra $50k for his efforts—but will that be enough to quit his job at Walgreens? It’s not the kind of financial security that promises even a 5-year plan. It is, though, exactly what the UFC strives for—something that will likely make the promotion money for years to come.

Joaquin Buckley produced a moment that couldn’t possibly define the UFC any better if he’d tried. A remarkable display of skill and violence, and at a price to please even the stingiest checkbook. Hopefully he can produce a few more to really make his work pay off.

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