On the night that Joaquin Buckley lit up the internet with arguably the greatest finish in UFC history, Cory Sandhagen turned in a spectacular finish of his own in the biggest fight of his life.
Sandhagen recovered from a stunning first-round submission loss to Aljamain Sterling in June by using a spinning wheel kick to the head early in the second round Saturday in Abu Dhabi to drop Moraes and send him tumbling backward to the cage.
Sandhagen jumped on him immediately and landed several shots before referee Marc Goddard called a halt to it at 1:03 of the second.
It was a critical win in the competitive bantamweight division, knocking off the No. 1-rated Moraes.
Sandhagen said the kick was something he practiced repeatedly in the summer as, like so many, he was confined to home by the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s putting in that work during the quarantine,” Sandhagen said. “When you can’t go to the gym and all you can hit is the bob, I had to enhance my game and I’m always working. Hard work pays off.”
Sandhagen fought brilliantly against Moraes, controlling the distance in the first round and ripping Moraes with kicks to the legs.
He was the fighting in the main event of a card that was one of the best of the year, with a string of violent finishes and back-and-forth fights. Nothing, though, was better than Buckley’s devastating finish of Impa Kasanagay.
Buckley threw a body kick that Kasanagay caught, and held onto. Buckley pivoted and fired a spinning back foot, with his foot landing squarely on Kasanagay’s nose. Kasanagay did a dead man’s fall backward and the fight was immediately waved off. UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports that Kasanagay had checked out fine when he was examined after the bout.
That led to a huge night for the UFC on social media. In the first two hours, the video had been viewed eight million times and it was the most engaged tweet from the UFC account ever on Twitter. And the hashtag #UFCFightIsland5 was the third worldwide trend on Twitter.
Sandhagen gave them something to appreciate in the main event.
He came in off a disappointing loss to Sterling at UFC 250 in June, and told Yahoo Sports before the fight that he’d been too cool and calm before the start. He hired a sports psychologist after that fight and it was obvious the message got through.
Moraes is one of the UFC’s most aggressive fighters and comes forward at all times, especially early in fights.
On this night, though, that played right into what Sandhagen wanted to do.
“He was throwing wild shots, but I saw everything coming and that’s when I knew I had him,” Sandhagen said.
The finish came early in the second. Sandhagen was in the center of the ring and used his quickness to spin and land the wheel kick. Moraes tumbled back and did a somersault to try to get to safety, but Sandhagen was on top of him in a flash.
He finished the fight quickly and regained the mojo that he’d lost after the puzzling submission defeat at the hands of Sterling. It wasn’t that Sandhagen lost that was puzzling; it was that he didn’t look engaged.
But on this night, he was primed and ready and proved he’ll be a handful for anyone in the division.
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