UFC 263: Adesanya vs. Vettori Preview

A preview of Saturday’s UFC 263 card, set to take place in Glendale, Ariz.

Updated: June 8, 2021 • 3:10 PM ET

leon edwards.jpg

Leon Edwards - Wikimedia Commons

Main event middleweight title bout - Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori


Rematches can be hit-or-miss in the UFC, but there’s no shortage of anticipation for Saturday’s bout between middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and No. 3 ranked Marvin Vettori. Both fighters were recently interviewed by UFC commentator Michael Bisping, and the exchange between the two quickly got heated.

Adesanya has only lost once in his professional MMA career, which came in his last fight when he challenged Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title in March. Attempting to become just the fifth double champion in UFC history, Adesanya (20-1) lost the bout to Blachowicz by unanimous decision. It was Adesanya’s first time competing in a light heavyweight bout in the UFC, and he didn’t seem comfortable adjusting to the added weight.

Adesanya won the interim middleweight championship with a unanimous decision victory over Kelvin Gastelum in April 2019, then won a middleweight title unification bout six months later when he knocked out Robert Whittaker to become the undisputed champion. Saturday will be his third title defense, as Adesanya successfully defended the belt against Yoel Romero last March and later in 2020 with an embarrassing destruction of Paulo Costa.

One of the most dynamic strikers in the UFC, Adesanya often releases his kicks and punches from awkward angles. He has made many of his fights look easy at times, but Vettori (17-4-1) may have already given Adesanya his toughest challenge as a pro.

In April 2018, Vettori tested Adesanya more than any of his opponents in the UFC has. Adesanya won that bout by a close split-decision with one judge scoring the bout in Vettori’s favor. Vettori, who has said he doesn’t think he lost that fight, hasn’t lost again since coming up on the wrong end of that decision to Adesanya.

The Italian has won his last five fights with notable victories over Jack Hermansson and Kevin Holland. If Vettori isn’t victorious this time against Adesanya, it may take five straight victories again for him to earn a third title shot against Adesanya if he remains the champion. Another option for Vettori, if he comes up short again, is that he may have to contemplate switching weight classes.

If Adesanya comes up short on Saturday, more of his mystique will fade. The loss to Blachowicz took some of his shine, and allowing Vettori to capture his first UFC title would bring about reasonable questions regarding Adesanya’s future.

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Co-main event flyweight title bout - Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno

One of the most exciting fighters in the UFC, Deiveson Figueiredo will defend the flyweight title against Brandon Moreno in a rematch from UFC 256 in December. In that fight, Moreno proved to be Figueiredo’s toughest opponent in years, as the judges ruled the fight a majority draw.

Figueiredo (20-1-1) won the vacant flyweight title last July with a first-round submission of Joseph Benavidez and submitted Alex Perez, also in the first round, four months later in his first title defense. Figueiredo then produced the quickest turnaround ever made by a UFC champion when he defended the title for a second time 21 days later in the first fight with Moreno.

The first bout with Moreno was a back-and-forth war that went all five rounds, earning “Fight of the Night” honors. Prior to the fight against Moreno, none of Figueiredo’s previous four opponents even made it to a third round, all being finished by the champion early. The 33-year-old Brazilian’s last and only professional loss came in 2019 by unanimous decision to Jussier Formiga, and Moreno will attempt to hand Figueiredo just the second loss of his career on Saturday.

The No. 1 ranked Moreno hasn’t come up on the losing end of a fight since 2018 when he lost to Alexandre Pantoja by unanimous decision. Since that fight with Pantoja, Moreno has had six fights, winning four of them with two draws (the other draw came against Askar Askarov in 2019). Only 27 years old, Moreno has already fought for the flyweight title and hopes to become the first Mexico-born UFC champion in the promotion’s history this weekend.

Welterweight bout - Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz

One of the most popular fighters in the UFC, Nate Diaz, will return to the Octagon on Saturday when he faces Englishman Leon Edwards.

Diaz is best known for his two fights with Conor McGregor in 2016, but he’s been a prominent fixture in the UFC since 2007 when he won The Ultimate Fighter 5. The 36-year-old Diaz, however, will step back into the Octagon this weekend after a fairly lengthy hiatus, as he hasn’t fought since 2019 when he lost by TKO (doctor stoppage) to Jorge Masvidal for the conceived BMF title in the main event of UFC 244.

Masvidal seemed to dominate the fight through three rounds before a New York State Athletic Commission doctor stopped the bout before the start of the fourth round due to a cut over Diaz’s right eye. After suffering the loss, Diaz has not been seen in a UFC Octagon since.

In his career, Diaz has impressive wins over Gray Maynard, Michael Johnson and Anthony Pettis, but his biggest victory to date came in the first bout with McGregor when he defeated the UFC’s biggest superstar by a rear-naked choke submission in the second round on 13 days’ notice. Although McGregor continues to be the UFC’s biggest draw, the Irishman seemed larger than life entering the first bout with Diaz.

McGregor was coming off a 13-second knockout of MMA legend Jose Aldo to win the featherweight title, exuding an untouchable mystique against everyone he faced. Diaz, though, pulled of the shocking upset and choked McGregor into a submission.

Diaz lost a back-and-forth bloodbath in the second fight with McGregor by majority decision roughly five months later, but the series rocketed him to stardom. Since the two fights against McGregor, though, Diaz has only fought twice with the victory over Pettis and the loss to Masvidal. His opponent on Saturday, however, hasn’t been overly active either.

The No. 3 ranked Edwards can’t seem to catch a break. He spent nearly two years away from the Octagon from July 2019 through March 2021 due to the reasons surrounding the pandemic with numerous scheduled fights canceled. Edwards was scheduled to face Tyron Woodley in March 2020, but COVID-19 restrictions forced him to withdraw from the bout when the card was supposed to be moved from London to the United States and ultimately cancelled. He was then supposed to fight undefeated rising star Khamzat Chimaev in December, but Chimaev and Edwards both tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the fight, and the bout was postponed. The UFC rescheduled the fight twice, but the encounter never took place because of lingering effects on both fighters from the virus.

Edwards finally returned to the Octagon in March to face rising prospect Belal Muhammad, but the fight ended in the second round after an accidental eye poke rendered Muhammad unable to continue. For a fighter who hasn’t lost a bout since 2015, Edwards seems to be one of the most unlucky fighters ever. He has wins over Vicente Luque, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson and former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, but a win on Saturday could propel him to a future title shot.

 

The rest of the main card on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. EST

Welterweight bout - Demian Maia vs. Belal Muhammad

Light heavyweight bout - Paul Craig vs. Jamahal Hill

 

Prelims on ESPN at 8 p.m. EST

Lightweight bout - No. 13 Drew Dober vs. Brad Riddell

Light heavyweight bout - Eryk Anders vs. Darren Stewart

Women’s flyweight bout - No. 3 Lauren Murphy vs. No. 6 Joanne Calderwood

Featherweight bout - No. 14 Movsar Evloev vs. No. 15 Hakeem Dawodu

 

Early Prelims on UFC Fight Pass at 6 p.m. EST

Women’s bantamweight bout - No. 11 Pannie Kianzad vs. Alexis Davis

Lightweight bout - Frank Camacho vs. Matt Frevola

Featherweight bout - Chase Hooper vs. Steven Peterson

Lightweight bout - Fares Ziam vs. Luigi Vendramini

Heavyweight bout - Carlos Felipe vs. Jake Collier

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