We have an incredibly exciting main event to look forward to this weekend at UFC Fight Island 5, as the No. 1 ranked UFC bantamweight contender ‘Magic’ Marlon Moraes takes on the No. 4 ranked UFC bantamweight contender Cory ‘The Sandman’ Sandhagen.
This fight is so compelling, it’s a real wonder how it’s going to go. We have perhaps the most dangerous 135 lb fighter in the world facing off against one of the most elusive talents in the sport.
Moraes hasn’t fought since December of last year, while Sandhagen fought as recently as June of this year, though he didn’t get the outcome he wanted.
Moraes defeated Jose Aldo via split decision in December, and Sandhagen was submitted (rear naked choke) early in round one of his fight with Aljamain Sterling in June.
We were all really looking forward to both fights: Moraes versus Aldo didn’t really deliver, and the official decision was controversial.
Then Sterling versus Sandhagen, no one knew how that was going to go, but Sterling didn’t even give ‘The Sandman’ a chance to get started.
However, they’ve each had a lot more performances than just their last, or most recent. For starters, they’re both top five bantamweights, and they’re both champions, in more than one form of fighting.
‘Magic’ has been competing in mixed martial arts eight years longer than Sandhagen, and he was ruling the WSOF bantamweight division when Sandhagen made his professional debut.
After starting his career out with a 5-4-1 record, Moraes quickly made all the adjustments necessary to become one of the best 135 lb fighters in the world. He didn’t lose another fight until his UFC debut, which spanned almost six years.
This included winning the WSOF Bantamweight Championship, having defended it five times.
Really, Moraes has six title defenses, he made weight for all seven title fights. His opponent for his first title defense didn’t however, and it was ruled a non-title bout considering.
Moraes lost his UFC debut to longtime top ten bantamweight Raphael Assuncao via split decision, a fight he could have very easily gotten the nod in.
His next bout came against longtime top five flyweight and top fifteen bantamweight, The Ultimate Fighter 14 winner, John Dodson.
His fight with Dodson was also very close, but he was awarded the split decision victory this time around. These two fights got ‘Magic’ comfortable inside the octagon, because he came out for his next three just how we always expected him to.
Moraes KO’d the 14-2 Aljamain Sterling with a vicious knee just 67 seconds into their fight in his next outing, before KO’ing the 21-1 Jimmie Rivera with a perfect switch kick to the head in just 33 seconds.
Mix those two performances with him avenging his loss to Assuncao immediately following his fights with Sterling and Rivera, stunning the fellow Brazilian with back-to-back overhand rights, before wrapping him up in a guillotine choke to get the tap at 3:17 of round one, we knew who was next in line for a title shot.
These three victories are as impressive as any back-to-back-to-back victories in this sports history. Sterling is a former five-time champion that had only lost two incredibly close split decisions coming into his fight with Moraes, and hasn’t lost since.
Rivera is a former six-time champion that was on a 20-fight win streak, and Assuncao was 27-5 overall as a professional, and 11-1 in his last twelve with the only loss being to TJ Dillashaw, who one of those eleven wins was over.
‘Magic’ became just the second man to submit Assuncao, a longtime Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, the first being Urijah Faber.
Moraes would end up getting his title shot for the vacant belt against Henry Cejudo at UFC 238. Moraes had the best round one you’ll ever see anyone have, he was so dominant early on. However, the grit that Cejudo possesses, it was enough to weather the storm and pour it on in rounds two and three.
Cejudo showed us, if you’re tough as hell, and you can pay attention to everything Moraes throws, chances are you can start to wear him out after about seven or eight minutes of fighting if you push the pace.
Even if Moraes lands hard, which he did, Cejudo paid attention to the strikes coming his way, he saw them, thus the reason he wasn’t finished.
Moraes’ one fight since then was against Jose Aldo, where as mentioned above, it was a controversial decision. Most people believed Aldo won, he did pressure Moraes the entire fight, but there were two significant moments of the fight, just two, and they both belonged to Moraes.
The switch kick to the head Moraes opened up round one with, and the hip toss Moraes landed on Aldo at the end of round one. Aside from that, the fight was dead even with Aldo pursuing the action.
Before joining the UFC roster, Sandhagen had a 7-1 record and was a former SCL Featherweight Champion, a belt he vacated considering he only fought that lone time in the promotion.
‘The Sandman’ came to the UFC in January of 2018 and defeated the 15-3 Austin Arnett at 145 lbs in his debut.
This was very impressive because Arnett is a good striker and he was a lightweight for much of his career, Sandhagen’s a natural bantamweight, and he TKO’d him in round two.
His next bout came against the 36-9 (1 NC) Iuri Alcantara, who he was in all sorts of trouble against early on.
Alcantara is a high level black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, has been for a long time, and he’s even competed as high as 170 lbs, winning fights against UFC veterans at that weight.
Alcantara almost submitted Sandhagen numerous times in that first round, chambering submission after submission, but ‘The Sandman’ survived the round and came out in round two with a vengeance, and got the TKO victory 61 seconds into the round.
He then submitted Mario Bautista with a beautiful armbar at 3:31 of round one of his next bout, before defeating John Lineker via split decision, and then Raphael Assuncao via unanimous decision.
That brings us to his fight with Aljamain Sterling, which he seemingly just didn’t have much of a chance in.
We all expected that to be a close, competitive fight, and it wasn’t. Sterling is next in line for a title shot at champion Petr Yan, so there’s really no shame in that defeat. Yan versus Sterling makes for an epic title fight, and this makes for an epic No. 1 contender fight.
Marlon Moraes (23-6-1) vs. Cory Sandhagen (12-2)
This is such a fun fight! We have no clue how it’ll go. Chances are, either Sandhagen will use his superior endurance to weather Moraes’ storm and start to pick him apart in the later rounds, or Moraes is just too powerful and technical on the feet for him early on and it gets stopped considering.
Both of these men got their start competing in kickboxing, and they both reached the peak of the sport. ‘Magic’ is a two-time Brazilian Muay Thai National Champion, as well as a WKA Kickboxing Champion, and Sandhagen is a multiple-time WKA Kickboxing Champion.
Moraes has black belts in both Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Sandhagen has a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. There’s a reason these are two of the very best bantamweights in the world.
This fight most likely depends on whether or not Moraes can get a finish by round two. His switch kick to the body, and especially to the head is the cleanest and most vicious in the entire sport. His round kicks are also a problem.
His hands are lethal, incredibly quick, equally as powerful, and equally as diverse, and he also has wicked leg kicks.
Sandhagen takes a more volume-based approach to his striking, and it works beautifully for him. He fights kind of like TJ Dillashaw, or maybe Max Holloway.
He’s as good as they come at striking while switching stances, something that very few in the sport can do, especially against the best.
Sandhagen also has some beautiful flying knees, as well as some really crisp elbows. With him being the taller man, ‘Magic’ will certainly have to watch out for those.
With ‘The Sandman’ being the longer of the two parties, that may work out well for him. Moraes has shown us time and time again however that he’s capable of getting into range in order to land his own strikes. This will be very interesting to observe and see which way it goes.
Moraes is right in the middle of his athletic peak at 32-years-old, and Sandhagen is approaching his athletic peak at 28-years-old. We have another few years before we’ll really know how good Sandhagen is.
They’re also both very defensively sound, both in the striking and grappling departments, though it’s likely this fight plays out on the feet entirely.
Lastly, we have to consider their frames for the bantamweight division, and for how they match up with one another. Sandhagen stands 5’11” with a 71” reach, while Moraes stands 5’6” with a 67” reach.
If Sandhagen wins this fight, he’ll be right up there even closer to a title shot, and will probably only have to fight once more, and win, in order to secure a title shot. Moraes on the other hand most likely gets a title shot with a win, unless Sterling still hasn’t gotten his that is.
Who do you see winning this exciting top five bantamweight clash?
I became a fan of combat sports when I was 12 years old. I was scrolling through the channels and landed upon versus, where WEC was televised. Urijah Faber fought Jens Pulver for the second time that night. That’s the first fight I saw, and the fight that got me hooked on the sport. Since then, the sport has grown so rapidly, and my goal is to enlighten everyone on what’s going on in the sport today.