Breaking down the top storylines ahead of UFC 263, featuring two title fights headlined by Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori.
A rematch between Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori headlines UFC 263 on Saturday. Their first meeting took place in April 2018, which was a split decision in favor of Adesanya. That should have been an unanimous decision, as Adesanya thoroughly controlled the fight. Vettori has his chance at redemption this Saturday with the middleweight title on the line, which is only a piece of a very alluring UFC 263 card.
The second title fight on the card is also a rematch, as Deiveson Figueiredo defends the flyweight title against Brandon Moreno. Figueiredo and Moreno fought to a draw at UFC 256 in December. That was the fight of the night, with Moreno withstanding a tremendous amount of punishment and giving it right back to the champ. Figueiredo was deducted a point the third round for a groin strike, a costly mistake that ultimately prevented him from scoring the decision.
UFC 263 also features the return of Nate Diaz, who meets a top welterweight contender in Leon Edwards. Per the oddsmakers, Diaz is a massive underdog—but it is never wise to count him out of a fight. The card also includes Belal Muhammad looking to earn a win against Demian Maia, as well as light heavyweights Jamahal Hill and Paul Craig opening the main card with what should be a barnburner.
Here are some of the more pressing questions ahead of UFC 263 on Saturday.
Will the second meeting between Adesanya and Vettori be any different than the first?
The UFC 263 main event is an opportunity for Adesanya to reassert himself as the undisputed king of the middleweight division.
Adesanya (20-1) had been on a dominating run until the loss to Jan Blachowicz in a fight for the light heavyweight title. But Adesanya is perfectly suited for the middleweight division. The loss to Blachowicz should not cause him to lose any stock as a fighter, and he should remind people of his brilliance with a one-sided performance against Vettori.
Adesanya dominated the majority of the first fight in April 2018. Vettori (17-4-1) had the better wrestling and used that to score takedowns, but he never did anything of substance with them. Even when he was taken down, Adesanya was never in harm’s way–if anything, Adesanya was throwing from the bottom, causing more problems for Vettori.
Running it back with Vettori, who has been a force in the division over his past five fights, is the right move, but this should be the type of matchup where we see Adesanya style bend and show more aggressive with his takedowns–and flip Vettori’s takedowns so he can come out the stronger man on top. That is the Adesanya that I expect to see on Saturday.
This is not a fight Vettori wins, but rather a fight to rebuild Adesanya. Vettori cannot stand with Adesanya, and that is where we’ll see our knockout.
Can Deiveson Figueiredo finally put away Brandon Moreno?
This bout is the biggest question mark on the card.
Figueiredo is very big for his division. Before he was champ, he battled weight-cutting issues. Size is an advantage for him against Moreno, a fighter that has continually improved from fight-to-fight. A critical question is whether Figueiredo (20-1-1) will finally be able to use his size and strength to solve the Moreno (18-5-2) puzzle.
The first meeting between these two last December was a banger. Figueiredo landed some absolutely brutal shots on Moreno, who always find a way to extend the fight. Both fighters’ chins took a significant beating, and we were also treated to incredible stamina over five rounds, as well as elite ground games in addition to the striking. Unlike the first meeting, both fighters have had a full camp to prepare, and it will be telling to see who that favors.
Figueiredo has the potential to be an incredible champion, but you never quite know which version you are going to see in the cage. There is no doubt that Moreno is going to be ready to fight. If Figueiredo shows up on point, he will continue his reign atop this division, but that is no certainty. I tend to think Figueiredo win this fight, but following his evolution as a fighter, it would be fantastic to see Moreno pull off the upset.
Does Diaz have any shot against Edwards?
Leon Edwards should win this fight. But it is never wise to ever rule out Nate Diaz.
Edwards (18-3, 1 NC) is the number-three ranked opponent in the division, and he should have fought for the welterweight title a year-and-a-half-ago. Instead, he now has a very compelling matchup here with Diaz (20-12). A victory against a top name like Diaz would be a feather in Edwards’ cap, even if this is an older version of him at 36. Edwards is one of the best in the division, and he should come out and finish Diaz. But Diaz has a pathway to score the upset, too.
Diaz has taken so much damage throughout his career, but a strength for him is his cardio. That part of his game is unmatched, and if he can avoid getting pieced up early in this bout, then it is possible we see him tire Edwards out and then submit him.
Edwards could excuse a loss with being on the shelf for so long. He fought just a few months ago in March, but that bout was stopped 18 seconds into the second round due to an accidental eye poke on Muhammad. Before that, Edwards went five rounds in July of 2019, so there has been plenty of time off before 263.
Diaz as an underdog is a tempting line for gamblers, but this fight should—again, caution: should—belong to Edwards.
What does Muhammad stand to gain by beating Maia?
Now in the twilight of his career, the once-great Maia is an opponent that Muhammad needs to beat.
This would have meant a lot more four years, when Maia (28-10) was still operating at a higher level. So while it is less of a statement now with Maia on the decline, it is still a win that Muhammad (18-3, 1 NC) needs.
The fight is reminiscent of Adesanya fighting then-42-year-old Anderson Silva in February of 2019. That was an older Silva, and not the version we wanted to see against Adesanya, but the win still means something for Adesanya. That same applies here, as Muhammad has the opportunity to defeat one of the most respected names in the sport.
What makes 263 such a well-rounded card?
The main card opener should be fantastic. The undefeated Jamahal Hill is looking to make some noise in the light heavyweight division, and he can do that with a win against Paul Craig. Both Hill (8-0, 1 NC) and Craig (14-4-1) are going to swing on each other, and this should be spectacular. I am particularly excited to see if they immediately come out trading, and I lean toward Hill winning this fight.
In addition to the main card, there are quality fights all across 263. This includes a women’s flyweight bout pitting Lauren Murphy against Joanne Calderwood. Murphy (14-4) is on a four-fight win streak and has been wrecking opponents, yet has not been receiving the recognition she deserves. She has the chance to make an emphatic point in this bout against Calderwood (15-5).
UFC 263 features an exceptionally well-rounded card, right down to the prelims. Chase Hooper is fighting on the early prelims, as well as Matt Frevola, and there is also the chance to see Pannie Kianzad, who typically fights a very exciting style. The best fight on the prelims is going to be Eryk Anders, who played college football at the University of Alabama, against Darren Steward, who is known as “The Dentist,” because he’s going to take your teeth. And, of course, the two title fights will ensure that 263 is a memorable evening.