UFC 263: Adesanya v Vettori 2 Predictions
Scores will be settled when familiar foes face-off in two title matches at UFC 263 in Glendale, Arizona on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Headlining a stacked card at a sold-out Gila River Arena is the battle for middleweight gold between champion Israel Adesanya and history-chasing challenger Marvin Vettori. The co-main event is another championship rematch as Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno run it back for the flyweight title.
A third blockbuster bout will see the return of one of the biggest superstars in the sport in Nate Diaz, who looks to steal the surging Leon Edward’s thunder to position himself for a possible title fight at 170 pounds (77kg). Plus, the legendary Demian Maia makes what’s expected to be his final Octagon appearance against Belal Muhammad in a welterweight match-up and ranked light heavyweights Paul Craig and Jamahal Hill go head-to-head.
MAIN CARD (from 4 AM Sunday SA time):
Israel Adesanya v Marvin Vettori (Middleweight Championship)
A rematch three years in the making, Adesanya (20-1) and Vettori (17-4-1) go again, this time for the gold. Prospects at the time of their maiden meeting, it was Adesanya who eked out a split decision victory.
The razor-thin win set “The Last Stylebender” on his way; he clinched the interim title in an epic clash against Kelvin Gastelum and went on to become the undisputed king of the middleweights with a second-round TKO win over Robert Whittaker at UFC 243. Since that crowning moment in October 2019, the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-bred phenom has defended his title twice, besting boogeymen Yoel Romero and Paula Costa back-to-back to solidify his seat on the throne.
Vettori, conversely, has had to take the long road since the narrow loss to “Izzy” and hasn’t put a foot wrong, racking up five wins on the trot, most recently dominating Kevin Holland over five rounds in April to earn his first title shot. For the 27-year-old, it’s not just an opportunity to avenge his loss to the man he’s developed a devilish distaste for but also a chance to etch his name in history as the first-ever Italian UFC champion.
A key factor to consider timing-wise is the fact that Adesanya is coming off the first loss of his career. Chasing his own place in history, the 31-year-old moved up to light heavyweight as he aimed to become a dual-champion and put up a valiant effort against 205-pound (93kg) king Jan Blachowicz but fell short on the scorecards. With Adesanya’s aura of invincibility evaporated, an already confident Vettori believes his time has come.
“The Italian Dream” showed in the first fight that he has the skill and game plan to beat “The Last Stylebender.” No doubt the greatest source of confidence he got out of the contest was that he was able to hang with the kickboxing savant on the feet.
As a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt with nine submission wins, Vettori’s striking is mainly merely a means of masking takedowns and initiating the clinch. He’s all about the grind, employing relentless wrestling to sap the energy out of his enemies.
That he was able to go tit-for-tat in Adesanya’s world was thus surprising, while he dragged him down into his as well, landing two takedowns. For him, the challenge will be to replicate the competitiveness he had on the feet and increase his overall output.
On the other hand, Adesanya and his team now know what to expect from Vettori. Armed with that Intel and with plenty of tricks up his sleeve as one of the most diverse strikers the UFC has ever seen, the champion should be able to make the necessary adjustments and the most of his four-inch reach advantage to secure a more convincing win this time around.
Deiveson Figueiredo v Brandon Moreno (Flyweight Championship)
A lot of two-way action is coming in for the co-main event and rightfully so after nothing could separate these two in their back-and-forth banger in December. The pair put on an instant classic, showcasing why they’re the two top flyweights in the world, and with the Fight of the Year candidate finishing in a majority draw, the rematch will reveal who’s truly the best
Combing through the evidence of the first fight, Figueiredo (20-1-1) displayed the heart of a champion by not only proving he can go five full rounds but actually finishing the stronger of the two. As the bigger man who battles to cut down to the 125-pound (57kg) limit, the emphatic answer to questions about his cardio was my biggest takeaway and probably why he’s once again favoured to hold onto the belt.
Moreno (18-5-1), meanwhile, epitomised the Mexican fighting spirit in his maiden title fight. Figueiredo has the heaviest hands in the division, which has earned him nine knockouts (he also has eight wins by submissions) so that Moreno was able to take his best shots and continued to take the fight to the feared champion was a big surprise.
Known as “The Assassin Baby”, Moreno does his best work on the canvas, with 10 of his 18 wins coming by decision (he also has three KOs). He was able to take Figueiredo down, although, the fact that “Deus Da Guerra” managed to pop up rather quickly will carry more mental weight going into Saturday’s sequel.
As helpful as studying tape of their UFC 256 tilt is to base one’s bet on, the key in my opinion is events that came outside of the Octagon leading up to their initial meeting. Figueiredo was hospitalised with an illness on the eve of the event and was only discharged in the early morning hours the day of the fight.
At full strength this time around, Figueiredo will unleash the full might of his striking power on Moreno, who I believe will wilt under the more destructive onslaught.
Leon Edwards v Nate Diaz (Welterweight)
Diaz (20-12) is an attraction. A history maker from the mean streets of Stockton, his rivalry with Conor McGregor is the stuff of legend and produced two of the biggest pay-per-views in the promotion’s history. He also spoke the BMF belt into existence and returns for the first time since his loss to Jorge Masvidal for the specially-build title in November 2019.
That historic scrap ended anticlimactically and somewhat controversially. Diaz was a bloody mess but far from a beaten man heading into the championship rounds only for the doctor to step in and stop the fight. Feeling cheated, Diaz is back and making history once again in the first-ever five-round fight that’s not for a championship or the main event.
A true fighter with a kill-or-be-killed mentality, Diaz is a dog and will have to make it a dog fight to stop the surging Edwards (18-3-1NC), whose eight-fight win streak sees him enter as the heavy favourite. Cardio-wise, few men can keep up with the relentless pressure the Diaz brothers have built their careers on.
Many have succumbed to their non-stop barrage of piston-like punches over the years. Tough as nails, they just keep coming…like something out of a horror movie. They’re even more dangerous on the ground where Nate, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie, has 11 submission wins to his name.
Due to the wars they’ve been in, though, both brothers have built up considerable scar tissue and the BMF title bout was a reminder that fight-stopping cuts – that go down in the record books as TKOs – should always be factored in when one bets on a Diaz fight.
Diaz, in the latter stages of his career, has learned how to play the game, first calling out McGregor and then Masvidal. He knows that for all Edwards has done over his five-year undefeated run, he still lacks a big-name scalp like his. More importantly, Diaz knows that a win over third-ranked “Rocky” could catapult him straight to a title shot at 177 pounds (77kg).
The problem with Diaz’s plan is that Edwards is a bad stylistic match-up for him, so much so that Diaz is the biggest underdog on the main card at 3.85. Edwards might not have one-punch knockout power, but he’s incredibly well-rounded. That he’s never been finished shows he has an excellent defence to go with his diverse offence, a combination I believe will earn him the biggest win of his career.
Demian Maia v Belal Muhammad (Welterweight)
There are submission artists and then there’s Maia (28-10). A fifth-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and multi-time world champion in the discipline, half of Maia’s wins are by submission. One of the last remaining specialists in modern MMA, the Brazilian legend’s submission prowess saw him challenge for the middleweight and welterweight championships and has made him a top 10 mainstay for most of his tenured UFC career (he’s currently ranked ninth). All indications are that this will be his last dance in the Octagon and the 43-year-old has his work cut off for him.
Muhammad (18-3-1NC) is 11 years younger than Maia, who was knocked out by Gilbert Burns in his last fight over a year ago, and has a serious chip on his shoulder after he copped a finger to the eye that saw his maiden main event against the above-mentioned Edwards end in a no-contest in March. Before that, 12th-ranked “Remember the Name” won four on the trot and he’s hell-bent on making up for lost time.
It’s well known that Maia’s a sitting duck if he can’t take an opponent to the ground. The well-rounded Muhammad has the takedown defence (85%) to keep the fight standing, as well as a significant speed advantage. With just four knockouts, the last coming back in 2016, the Palestinian-American lacks punching power, which suggests he’ll pick up a 14th win by decision.
Paul Craig v Jamahal Hill (Light Heavyweight)
It’s fitting that a card headlined by two title rematches will be kick-started by two men with unfinished business. These two ranked light heavyweights were originally scheduled to scrap in March, however, Hill (7-1NC) was forced to withdraw due to Covid complications.
Now back to 100%, Hill puts his unbeaten record on the line against Craig (13-4-1), who sits one place above him in the rankings in 14th. The latter has won all but two of his fights by submission, while half of Hill’s victories have come by KO, earning him the nickname “Sweet Dreams.” The opener’s thus set to be a clash of styles and unlikely to go the distance.
In trying to take opponents to the mat where he thrives, Craig occasionally leaves himself open to strikes. As a result, three of his four losses came via knockout, which is how I’m expecting this one to end.