UFC Fight Island 5: Moraes & Sandhagen Look to Keep Title Hopes Alive

Marlon Moraes and Cory Sandhagen UFC Fight Island 5
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 09: (L-R) Opponents Marlon Moraes of Brazil and Cory Sandhagen face off during the UFC weigh-in on October 09, 2020 on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Marlon Moraes wants to be the monster waiting in the wings.  Cory Sandhagen looks to regain momentum.  Who will prevail at UFC Fight Island 5?

It was hard to conceive such a turn of events for “Magic” Marlon Moraes when we last saw him in December.  Coming off a hard-fought victory over a living legend in José Aldo, it looked like a second shot at a UFC title was not far off.  This became especially true after Henry Cejudo vacated the belt in May without a long list of imminent challengers.  But as is well-documented by now, the opportunity to fight for the vacant title instead went to Aldo and current champion Petr Yan.  Roughly ten months from his last bout, “Magic” now faces another top contender as he looks to assert himself as the biggest threat to the current title holder.

The former WSOF champion has been one of the most consistent bantamweights of the past decade.  Breaking onto the scene at the inaugural World Series of Fighting event with a win over former bantamweight kingpin Miguel Torres in 2012, he would go on to record another 15 victories.  He has stumbled only twice in that span, falling to Raphael Assuncao (which he later avenged) in his UFC debut in 2017 and against Henry Cejudo for the title in 2019.  Despite Moraes’ success, Dana White has already assured that fellow surging contender Aljamain Sterling will fight Yan for the title next.  While Sterling’s five fight win-streak makes him the man of the moment, Moraes could put himself in line for the next title shot regardless of what else may happen at 135 pounds until then.

Cory Sandhagen is looking for a return to form at a critical time against Moraes by comparison.  “The Sandman” had a seven fight win-streak snapped by Sterling in his last outing in a fight that likely could have put him in line to fight for the belt himself had he won.  Going back to his time in LFA, Sandhagen had emerged as a breath of fresh air as he dispatched perennial contenders Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker in 2019.

While the loss to Sterling was undoubtedly discouraging, it also puts Sandhagen in a precarious position at an interesting time in the weight class.  Yan and Sterling have yet to be scheduled for a bout, though many expect it to take place when the UFC returns to Abu Dhabi sometime in the first quarter of 2021.  In the time until then, former champion TJ Dillashaw is expected to return to action and former champions Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz are expected to compete again.  To knock off a contender like Moraes would reassert him as a threat for the belt, but a second loss in a row at this juncture could spell the end of Sandhagen’s title aspirations in the immediate future.

The explosive power of Moraes will be tested by Sandhagen’s height and ability to maintain the distance.  “The Sandman” has utilized his stature to great effect, using footwork and a multi-faceted striking attack to get the better of his opponents.  Against Moraes, high volume will be paramount as he must avoid staying in the pocket with his Brazilian foe.  Moraes by comparison should look to be the aggressor early and keep the fight in close where Sandhagen’s height is neutralized.  Moraes should use shots to the body and kicks to the legs to hamper Sandhagen’s mobility and consider taking the fight to the mat where his grappling pedigree figures to give him an edge as well.

A win for Moraes, particularly an impressive one, would lock in another shot at the bantamweight title.  It would likely create a scenario where he is on standby for Yan vs Sterling and quite possibly allow him to wait until the winner is available rather than take on more competition.  A victory for Sandhagen could lead to a title shot should Yan defend against Sterling, but a victory for “The Funkmaster” could lead to Sandhagen facing another contender such as Frankie Edgar or José Aldo before he can get a shot at the belt.