Last weekend, a pair of heavyweight bouts adorned the top of the UFC Fight Night bill. This weekend at UFC 263, it will be a pair of rematches with UFC gold on the line.
In the main event, current champion Israel Adesanya faces off against Marvin Vettori for the middleweight title. The pair first met in 2018, when Adesanya picked up a split-decision victory in the first time the Nigerian-born fighter ever saw the judges’ scorecards in his MMA career. It was clear that Vettori thought he deserved the victory, and the Italian fighter has been looking for a rematch ever since.
Since their clash, Vettori has gone on to notch five straight wins. His lopsided decision nod over Kevin Holland finally earned him the title shot he has been seeking. Meanwhile, Adesanya finds himself in a strange place after coming up short in his bid to become a double champ when he lost a unanimous decision to Jan Błachowicz at light heavyweight. Now, the “Stylebender” will try to rebound from his first professional MMA setback by ending the rivalry with Vettori through an emphatic finish.
The co-headliner is a rematch of a 2020 “Fight of the Year” contender. Flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo and challenger Brandon Moreno fought to a majority draw at UFC 256, the final pay-per-view event of 2020. Both men took that first fight after competing in separate bouts just 21 days prior, which dimmed the expectations of many fans. However, their thrilling back-and-forth contest more than delivered, as they slugged it out for the full 25 minutes.
In additional action on the main card, Nate Diaz returns for a five-rounder with Leon Edwards at welterweight. This contest was originally slated to be a five-round co-main event at UFC 262, but a minor injury forced Diaz to push back the fight to this weekend.
Another welterweight contest finds a home on the main card, with longtime contender Demian Maia meeting Belal Muhammad. The pay-per-view opens with a clash at light heavyweight between Paul Craig and Jamahal Hill.
UFC 263 takes place inside the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., on Saturday, June 12. The early prelims begin at 6 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+. The televised prelims follow at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+. The main card is available on ESPN+ pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Of all of Israel Adesanya’s middleweight foes in the UFC, Marvin Vettori came the closest to handing him a loss. What does Vettori need to do differently this time if he wants to edge out Adesanya?
Sumian: At the very moment that UFC announcer Bruce Buffer announced the split decision for Adesanya, the disappointment in Vettori’s reaction made it apparent that these two extremely gifted middleweights would eventually face each other down the line. Now, the time has come.
Vettori is the definition of a tenacious, aggressive, frightening title challenger who truly looks to punish his opponent. He has rattled off five straight victories against a group of average talents while making it look easier every time he steps foot in the Octagon. Has Vettori truly been tested in his effort to earn this title shot? Certainly not, but nevertheless the Italian has fought his way into the rematch he has so long desired. The stakes are much higher this time around, though.
It is no secret what the powerful and imposing title challenger will plan to do on June 12. His game plan will include constant forward pressure, tiring clinch exchanges, and the pursuit of well-timed takedowns to bring Adesanya into a world where Vettori’s superb grappling pedigree will negate Adesanya’s slick stand-up offense.
Vettori will hold a distinct power advantage in regards to being able to control position and body movement. The Italian’s intimidating frame and unquestionable gas tank makes him a nightmare to handle once he is able to secure top position. He will meticulously search for an opening in Adesanya’s defense and try to secure a submission.
There was more for Adesanya to accomplish at middleweight before being prematurely elevated into a super fight with Jan Błachowicz. Despite finding success early in the fight through the use of his superior speed and counter offense, Adesanya ultimately fell victim to the control and power of the light-heavyweight champ and lost a noncompetitive fight. In the grand scheme of things, though, Adesanya has lost nothing. He is still the king of the middleweights.
Adesanya’s most recent outing certainly provided his fellow middleweights with a fairly straightforward blueprint on how to defeat him. Whether or not a top contender is able to utilize this blueprint remains to be seen. Adesanya is still the most talented striker in the division and has the ability to finish anyone who dares to stand in front of him.
The champ’s game plan will be to control the distance and fire off his notorious kicks and counters in an effort to tire and frustrate the aggressive Vettori. The keys in the later rounds for Adesanya will be to force separation and attack the body and legs of Vettori.
This fight will be decided by one factor: Vettori’s ability to take down Adesanya and keep him there. The Italian was able to showcase several moments of success against Adesanya in their first bout, and he will be able to do so even more in the rematch. Adesanya certainly has the ability to land a slick counter for a TKO finish, but a composed and calculating Vettori will show vast improvement and turn in a unanimous-decision victory to become the first Italian UFC champion.
Petela: This fight will look nothing like the pair’s first encounter. To say that both men have improved by anything less than leaps and bounds doesn’t give the pair enough credit. They were both very good at the time they first fought, but there is no doubt that these two are now both truly special athletes and the top two middleweights in the world.
It makes sense that Vettori’s strategy would be to replicate what Błachowicz did in the final two rounds of his recent clash with Adesanya. However, this will prove to be much easier said than done. This rematch will show that the size disadvantage Adesanya had when he met Błachowicz was paramount in his inability to avoid being held with his back on the canvas late in the fight. Vettori will likely have some early success in getting a takedown or two in the center of the cage, but, as a middleweight, he won’t have the same size or strength edge that Błachowicz enjoyed over Adesanya. Therefore, Adesanya will be able to escape easily and exhaust Vettori early.
By the second round, it will be clear that the fighter who has improved even more than his opponent is Adesanya. Expect yet another knockout to be added to the highlight reel of “The Last Stylebender” as he earns a finish in the second frame and defends his undisputed middleweight title for the third time.
The flyweight championship co-headliner is also a rematch. The first clash between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno was a majority draw. What adjustment does each fighter need to make on Saturday night?
Petela: Adjustment is the key word here. After their first fight delivered in the way it did, it would be hard to call for either man to make improvements. They were so evenly matched throughout the fight, with each man having their moments both in the grappling and striking realms.
Figueiredo ended the fight with 137 strikes landed and scored two takedowns. Moreno wound up landing 132 strikes and scoring four takedowns. While no official submission attempts were recorded, Moreno did have more ground control time. Despite this fact, it was Figueiredo who landed more ground strikes. That all goes to say that the fight was incredibly competitive and rightly scored a draw.
Going into the first fight, the power of Figueiredo was a major concern. However, Moreno took a number of heavy shots throughout five rounds and was able to largely remain unfazed. As he enters the rematch knowing that he can withstand the power coming back at him, Moreno should push an even higher pace early on in the fight this time around. He may very well take heavy punches as he does it, but he will also force Figueiredo to miss, which will cause his cardio to begin to fail.
By the end of this fight, there will be no doubt that Moreno more successfully implemented his game plan. He will get his hand raised as the new flyweight champion.
Sumian: Moreno’s toughness and resilience are impossible to question after his stellar performance against the champ in December. However, let’s not forget that the pair met a month after fighting on the same November card, where they both registered dominant wins. Their clash was a last-minute booking to save a struggling card that had no main event.
This time around, the two best flyweights in the world will have full training camps to truly prepare for each other’s skills. This, combined with Figueiredo’s thunderous power, will be the difference. The champion will have had a full eight weeks to prepare for an opponent I believe he drastically underestimated in December.
Figueiredo will go head-hunting early in the bout while remaining calculated and composed. The Brazilian will eventually land a big hook on the jaw of Moreno that sends the extremely tough challenger to the mat. He will follow up with some powerful strikes before the referee steps in and calls it for the champion. Figueiredo is by far the best flyweight on the UFC roster today, and he will prove it convincingly this time around.
This card is so stacked that Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz aren’t even near the top of the bill. However, this is another very compelling bout in the lineup. Will Edwards pick up his first victory in nearly two years?
Sumian: Without a doubt. The whole idea of Diaz somehow defeating Edwards and earning a title shot against Kamaru Usman is comical. The Stockton native has not turned in a professional performance for over a year and a half, and he is 1-2 over his last three UFC appearances.
Diaz’s losses in that stretch came against an undersized Conor McGregor and via an absolute pounding at the hands of Jorge Masvidal. His only victory in the last five years was against an out-of-prime Anthony Pettis. Still, Diaz’s name and his epic rivalry against McGregor combine to keep his career in the spotlight.
Edwards is the complete opposite of Diaz. Where Diaz is sloppy, gritty, and relies on plain toughness to find victory, Edwards utilizes a complete game plan that involves calculated movements, polished striking, and a composed ground attack that usually leads to complete domination. He will put this on display yet again and find a TKO finish en route to an eventual rematch with the aforementioned Usman for the belt.
The best of Edwards is yet to come.
Petela: Actually, neither fighter has seen much action recently.
Sure, Edwards looked good in the opening round of his contest with Belal Muhammad, but that accounts for only five minutes since July 2019. Diaz last fought in November 2019, when Masvidal definitely got the better of him.
The odds rightfully favor Edwards in this showdown because of the winning streak he put together that only got halted because of the no-contest with Muhammad. However, expect to see the type of magic that only a certain few fighters can bring when Diaz steps back into the cage and pulls off the upset with an incredible performance in this welterweight showdown.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 263?
Petela: Brandon Moreno. After his first title fight with Deiveson Figueiredo, Moreno gained a ton of respect for going the distance with the powerful champion and coming away with a draw. This time around, he will leave with the belt wrapped around his waist and show that he is not only a world-class talent, but one with a world-class team surrounding him.
Sumian: Lauren Murphy. The 37-year-old The Ultimate Fighter alum had a difficult start to her UFC career, resulting in a 2-4 record over her first three years with the company. Since then, “Lucky” has turned her career around in a big way while compiling an impressive four-fight winning streak. The Alaskan fighter is one of the toughest female flyweights on the roster. A big win over Joanne Calderwood will lead to an eventual booking against current champion Valentina Shevchenko. Whether or not she beats the champ, Murphy will secure her first title shot and her biggest payday.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 263?
Sumian: Brandon Moreno. The Mexican fighter showed off his fire and toughness in the first bout against Figueiredo, but he will suffer an early knockout this time around. The champ underestimated Moreno once, but he won’t do so again.
Petela: Leon Edwards. He finally made his return to action in March after nearly two years away and countless fight cancellations, but that fight notoriously ended after Edwards accidentally poked Belal Muhammad in the eye just 18 seconds into the second round. While the no-contest certainly didn’t help recapture any momentum that had been lost, a loss to Nate Diaz will be much worse.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Demian Maia. The grappling ace is just one fight removed from a three-fight winning streak that included a “Fight of the Night” performance in his submission victory over Ben Askren, but Maia is now coming off a knockout loss to Gilbert Burns in a fight that took place well over a year ago. A loss to Belal Muhammad might be the sign that Maia needs to convince him to hang up his gloves. If he doesn’t come to that decision independently, it would be no surprise if the UFC cut ties with the 43-year-old Brazilian.
Sumian: Frank Camacho. The Guam native has compiled a 2-5 record since joining the UFC and is currently suffering through a two-fight skid in which he lost by way of submission and TKO. Another setback will likely cost Camacho his spot on the roster.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Lauren Murphy and Joanne Calderwood. The winner of this bout is very likely to earn a title shot, especially if they turn in a dominant performance. Both ladies will come out ready to display their absolute best. Calderwood is a gifted striker whose kickboxing background makes her a dangerous opponent for anyone. Murphy’s toughness and notorious elbows have led to an impressive four-fight winning streak. This will be a “Fight of the Night” candidate.
Petela: Matt Frevola and Frank Camacho. These two fighters don’t know how to be boring. Frevola lost his last outing to surging prospect Arman Tsarukyan, while Camacho has dropped back-to-back fights and four out of his last five. Frevola needs a big performance to regain some momentum. Camacho could very well be fighting for his job. That is a recipe for an incredible fight.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Nate Diaz. After a year and a half away from the Octagon, he will return to become the first person to stop Leon Edwards. There is no way that the Stockton resident doesn’t earn himself a post-fight bonus by delivering that type of performance under those particular circumstances.
Sumian: Drew Dober. Despite his three-fight winning streak, all by way of knockout, anyone who has previously watched MMA should have known that the surging lightweight’s pairing with Islam Makhachev was a nightmare match-up that would likely result in a submission loss for Dober. He now gets to trade with fellow striker Brad Riddell of City Kickboxing in what should be one of the most entertaining fights of the night. Riddell has had a 3-0 start in the UFC, but Dober will score a big knockout victory over the New Zealand native and secure another bonus.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: An Italian feast. From top to bottom, this card is loaded with incredible fights that are sure to deliver just like a whole and hearty Italian feast does. Grab a few friends and make a delicious cheese board featuring olives, prosciutto and burrata while enjoying the prelims. For the main card, order in or cook up some form of pasta and chicken parmesan while enjoying one of Italy’s most popular cocktails in the form of a Negroni. It’s a great way to prepare for the crowning of the first Italian champ in UFC history.
Petela: If there is one thing that has gained as much steam in New Zealand as the MMA scene, it is the country’s wine business. Both islands of New Zealand have recently become known as epicenters of fine vineyards. They even feature heavily in brilliant TV shows like The Brokenwood Mysteries. So, in honor of the booming wine culture and the middleweight king retaining his title, pair this card with a Governors Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a delicious yet affordable wine made right there on the South Island of New Zealand.
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
MW Championship: Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori
FlyW Championship: Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno
WW: Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz
WW: Demian Maia vs. Belal Muhammad
LHW: Paul Craig vs. Jamahal Hill
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
LW: Drew Dober vs. Brad Riddell
LHW: Eryk Anders vs. Darren Stewart
Women’s FlyW; Lauren Murphy vs. Joanne Calderwood
FW: Hakeem Dawodu vs. Movsar Evloev
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
Women’s BW: Pannie Kianzad vs. Alexis Davis
LW: Matt Frevola vs. Frank Camacho
FW: Steven Peterson vs. Chase Hooper
LW: Fares Ziam vs. Luigi Vendramini
HW: Carlos Felipe vs. Jake Collier
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