Any combat sports fans looking to cleanse their palate after last weekend’s Floyd Mayweather vs. Logan Paul spectacle, don’t worry, mixed martial arts has you covered.
PFL and Bellator returned with weekday events, but the most anticipated MMA card of the week is Saturday’s UFC 263.
The event takes place at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ari., in front of spectators and there’s an international flair with eight different countries represented on the main card.
It’s headlined by a middleweight title fight between Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori. The pair fought to a split decision three years ago – at the same venue no less – and their rivalry has become quite a bit more heated since then as we saw at Thursday's press conference when the f-bombs were flying back and forth.
The co-main event is another championship rematch with flyweights Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno running back their thrilling December draw. Plus, fan favourite Nate Diaz returns to competition for the first time in 19 months as he takes on unsung welterweight contender Leon Edwards in a bout brimming with title implications.
It’s a solid card from top to bottom with underdog Canadian fighters Hakeem Dawodu and Alexis Davis looking to pull off upsets in preliminary action against Movsar Evloev and Pannie Kianzad, respectively.
Here is a closer look at the three featured bouts at UFC 263.
Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori
The 185-pound champion is coming off the first defeat of his MMA career after he moved up to take on 205-pound titleholder Jan Blachowicz. Adesanya fell short in his attempt to become the UFC’s latest simultaneous two-weight champ, but Adesanya is an entirely different beast in his natural weight class.
In the first meeting, Adesanya got the better of the striking exchanges and defended Vettori’s takedowns over the first two rounds before Vettori used his grappling to control and win the third. The first fight took place in the smaller 25-foot Octagon, but the rematch will occur in the full-sized 30-foot cage, which should benefit Adesanya by allowing him more space to move around and manage distance.
This time around it’s a five-round fight, which should be music to Vettori’s ears since he is coming off back-to-back, five-round decision victories over ranked contenders and began taking control of the first fight the longer it went.
ODDS TO WIN: Adesanya -275, Vettori +220, Draw +6600
Adesanya by decision +160, Vettori by decision +400
Adesanya by stoppage +145, Vettori by stoppage +600
WHY YOU TAKE ADESANYA AT -275: He’s the champion for a reason and we’ve already seen him beat Vettori. His ability to piece up his opponents and slip out of danger is what sets him apart and the torque he can put on his counter punches is unlike any other middleweight.
WHY YOU TAKE VETTORI AT +220: The Italian is the hotter fighter, riding a five-fight winning streak and only losing one round along the way. His striking has continued to improve and he has shown an ability to dominate his opponents with takedowns and strong ground control, something we saw Adesanya struggle with in the championship rounds of his tilt with Blachowicz.
Vettori doesn’t have near the striking fluidity of Adesanya, but he can still be effective by feinting, throwing body kicks and jabbing to set up his straight left hand and takedowns. Vettori actually lands more strikes per minute than Adesanya, although his clearest path to victory is the same one he took to win round three back in 2018. This time he has five rounds with which to work and if he can survive Adesanya’s early striking onslaught and begin landing takedowns with relative ease, we may be looking at a new champ.
MY PICK: Adesanya. I predicted he’d lose to Blachowicz in March and Vettori is absolutely a live dog here with tempting odds. I’m torn, but I’m sticking with the champ to retain his belt. If the Nigerian-born New Zealander can keep his back off the fence and canvas for more than two of the five rounds, he wins the fight.
PROP TO CONSIDER: Adesanya inside the distance. Oddsmakers are favouring this one to go all 25 minutes and that’s fair considering neither fighter has been finished in MMA and neither came close to finishing the other the first time. That’s why there’s some value on a finish for the champ, who has finished 15 of his 20 pro wins. Adesanya wants to send a message to the middleweights after losing to Blachowicz and another KO win will do just that.
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno
The first encounter between these two 125-pounders was one of the best MMA fights of 2020 and perhaps the most entertaining bout in UFC men’s flyweight history. The first fight was put together in quick succession after both fighters earned first-round wins at UFC 255. In fact, Figueiredo made the quickest turnaround for a champion in UFC history. Figueiredo is the bigger fighter and struggles to make the 125-pound flyweight limit so the short turnaround was more beneficial to Moreno. How might the longer preparation time impact both fighters in the rematch? We'll find out Saturday.
ODDS TO WIN: Figueiredo -220, Moreno +175, Draw +5500
Figueiredo by decision +300, Moreno by decision +350
Figueiredo by stoppage +115, Moreno by stoppage +420
WHY YOU TAKE FIGUEIREDO AT -220: We didn’t see the best version of Figueiredo at UFC 256 yet he was still the more effective fighter overall. Figueiredo (20-1-1) would’ve won a unanimous decision were it not for a third-round point deduction due to an illegal low blow. Also, the Brazilian spent the night prior to the fight in the hospital with a bout of food poisoning. If all goes well with his weight cut this time around, we should see Figueiredo at peak performance and Figueiredo at peak performance is the best flyweight in the sport at the moment.
WHY YOU TAKE MORENO AT +175: The proud Tijuana, Mexico native ate 93 significant head strikes from Figueiredo yet was still smiling after the 25-minute war of attrition. He is younger, taller and possesses a reach advantage. Fighters who hold the edge in all three of those areas win far more often than they lose. He pushes a fast pace, which can be a weapon against a fighter with Figueiredo’s build.
MY PICK: Figueiredo. The champ is a bit of an anomaly at flyweight thanks to his unmatched punching power. He also has a tremendous squeeze on guillotine chokes and rear-naked chokes. Similar to the main event, though, the longer this fight lasts the more it could favour the challenger.
PROP BET TO CONSIDER: Figueiredo by stoppage. I’m choosing to believe the short turnaround and brief hospital stay were significant factors in the first fight. Figueiredo prefers to knock his opponents out (the champ by KO/TKO is +200), but Figueiredo specifically by submission is listed at +750 and that is also well within the realm of possibility.
Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz
This is the first non-main event with no title on the line to be approved for five rounds in UFC history, which speaks to Diaz’s star power. It’s also an ideal spot for Edwards to finally become a household name. To date, the most notoriety Edwards has received from mainstream UFC fans was after Jorge Masvidal assaulted him backstage in London in 2019.
ODDS TO WIN: Edwards -575, Diaz +390, Draw +6000
Edwards by decision +145, Diaz by decision +750
Edwards by stoppage +100, Diaz by stoppage +800
WHY YOU TAKE EDWARDS AT -575: If you wanted to place a moneyline bet on the Brit you would’ve been wise do so when the line opened at -275 because the odds have ballooned more than double in the weeks and days leading up to the event. The Birmingham, England native hasn’t lost since dropping a three-round decision to reigning welterweight titleholder Kamaru Usman back in 2015. Outside of perhaps Usman and Colby Covington, there hasn’t been a more well-rounded welterweight since Georges St-Pierre. Edwards is in that conversation.
WHY YOU TAKE DIAZ AT +390: It’s mostly because of the value and the fact Diaz has come through as a dog many times in his career. The Stockton, Calif., native has defeated the likes of Donald Cerrone, Jim Miller, Gray Maynard, Conor McGregor and Pettis when he closed as an underdog. The last time he was around a +400 underdog was before his first bout against McGregor and we all remember how that UFC landscape-altering fight ended. If Diaz can drag Edwards into deep waters and it goes beyond three rounds then his cardio could come into play.
MY PICK: It pains me any time I pick against Diaz, but Edwards is phenomenal and should hold the advantage in nearly every area. Diaz is 4-4 fighting at welterweight in the UFC and his only two wins at 170 pounds since 2010 were against McGregor, a featherweight-turned-lightweight, and Anthony Pettis, another lightweight that moved up. I can see this potentially playing out similarly to Edwards’ 2017 bout with Bryan Barberena, which was much closer than it should’ve been, however unless Edwards leaves his neck exposed on a lazy takedown attempt, I can’t see how Diaz wins this fight. That’s not a knock on Diaz either. It’s an endorsement of Edwards’ talent.
PROP BET TO CONSIDER: If you are going to bet the favourite then you’re better off picking the specific method of victory to get decent value. Since it’s a five-round fight and Edwards wants to make a statement to solidify a title shot, I lean toward Edwards getting a stoppage even though it's chalky Diaz has only been stopped twice in his UFC career and one was by a doctor due to a cut.
All listed odds via Bodog as of Friday morning