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Cory Sandhagen appears to have shed the dark horse label once and for all.
The fast-rising Elevation Fight Team star moved one step closer to a shot at the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight crown, as he blew away Marlon Moraes with a spinning wheel kick and follow-up punches in the second round of their UFC Fight Night 179 headliner on Saturday at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Moraes (23-7-1, 5-3 UFC) bowed out 63 seconds into Round 2.
Sandhagen (13-2, 6-1 UFC) used his height and length to his advantage throughout the first round, where he chopped away at the Brazilian’s legs and body with kicks. His fluid stance switches paid dividends, as well, allowing him to connect with jabs from both hands that led to significant damage near Moraes’ right eye. Sandhagen moved forward roughly a minute into the second round, planted and fired the kick off the side of the former World Series of Fighting champion’s head. Moraes somersaulted backward, at which point he was met with a volley of punches that closed the door.
Barboza Handles Replacement Amirkhani
American Top Team export Edson Barboza won for the first time in nearly two years, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Makwan Amirkhani in the featherweight co-main event. Scores were 30-26, 30-27 and 29-28, all for Barboza (21-9, 15-9 UFC), who rebounded from consecutive losses to Dan Ige, Paul Felder and Justin Gathje.
A short-notice replacement for Sodiq Yusuff, Amirkhani (16-5, 6-3 UFC) lacked the firepower and athleticism often required to deal with the former Ring of Combat champion. Barboza hammered the body with punches and kicks, knocked down the SBG Ireland rep twice with straight right hands in the second round and nullified his takedowns with stellar defense off his back.
Amirkhani, 31, has lost twice in three appearances.
Tybura Batters Rothwell Bloody
Former M-1 Global titleholder Marcin Tybura withstood an early blitz, then exploited an exhausted Ben Rothwell to earn a unanimous decision in a three-round heavyweight showdown. All three judges scored it 29-27 for Tybura (20-6, 7-5 UFC), who has quietly rattled off three straight wins.
Rothwell (38-13, 8-7 UFC) spent almost the entire first round trying to drown the Polish standout with volume punching. Tybura stayed the course in the face of enormous pressure, forced “Big Ben” to dig deeper and capitalized once fatigue set in on the Kenosha, Wisconsin, native. The 34-year-old Pole turned the tide in the middle stanza and found another gear in the third. There, he secured a takedown and bludgeoned Rothwell with enough destructive ground-and-pound to earn a 10-8 scorecard from all three judges.
The setback was Rothwell’s third in five outings.
Du Plessis Counter Flattens Perez
Onetime KSW champion Dricus Du Plessis dispatched Markus Perez with punches in the first round of their featured middleweight pairing. Filling in for Rodolfo Vieira on short notice, Du Plessis (15-2, 1-0 UFC) brought it to a decisive close 3:22 into Round 1, as he extended his winning streak to three fights.
Perez (12-4, 2-4 UFC) was the aggressor at the outset and initially forced the South African standout onto his back foot with sharp left hands and powerful body kicks. Du Plessis maintained his composure, fought through the jitters associated with his organizational debut and waited for his opportunity to strike. He countered a spinning attack from Perez with a shovel left hook to the side of the head, trailed him to the mat and sealed the deal with follow-up punches.
Perez, 27, has lost three of his last four fights.
Aspinall Mauls Newcomer Baudot
Team Kaobon prospect Tom Aspinall put away promotional newcomer Alan Baudot with mounted ground-and-pound in the first round of their heavyweight showcase. A late replacement for Sergey Spivak, Baudot (8-2, 0-1 UFC) succumbed to blows 1:35 into Round 1.
Aspinall (9-2, 2-0 UFC) waded through spinning strikes and a few upward elbows from the knockout-minded MMA Factory standout. He calmed the chaos with a takedown, moved to full mount and cut loose with a sustained burst of unanswered elbows and punches until the job was done.
The 27-year-old Aspinall has stitched together five consecutive victories.
Undefeated Topuria Stymies Zalal
Former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder Ilia Topuria kept his perfect professional record intact and made a successful Octagon debut, as he took a unanimous decision from Youssef Zalal in their three-round featherweight feature. All three cageside judges struck 29-28 scorecards for the unbeaten Topuria (9-0, 1-0 UFC), a short-notice substitution for Seung Woo Choi.
Zalal (10-3, 3-1 UFC) played right into the Spaniard’s hands. Topuria executed multiple takedowns, achieved full mount on two occasions and ran through a series of submission attempts, including guillotines, anaconda chokes, arm-triangles and rear-naked chokes. None of them stuck, but his efforts built an insurmountable lead and afforded him the breathing room he needed to overcome fatigue in the latter stages of the match.
The defeat closed the book on Zalal’s four-fight winning streak.
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