UFC 263 Main & Co-Main Preview & Predictions
By Cathal Geeney
Adesanya vs Vettori
Having effectively cleared the 185-pound division, Israel Adesanya is struggling to find any fresh opponents to defend his UFC middleweight strap against. He will therefore rematch Marvin Vettori on Saturday night in Glendale, Arizona.
The Last Stylebender will be hoping that he can put an exclamation point on his performance this weekend, as he fought Vettori to a split decision last time out.
Adesanya’s game is built around his incredible striking precision and speed. Transitioning from a kickboxing background, the New Zealander utilises every bit of his 80-inch range to pick his opponent off at range with an array of punches and kicks.
While if you try and negate his reach advantage by rushing him, his movement and counter punches land with devastating effect, as Robert Whittaker and many others have found out the hard way.
Although it has generally been plain sailing for Adesanya in the UFC, he is coming off some adversity, having tasted defeat for the first time against Jan Blachowicz back in March of this year.
Adesanya ‘dared to be great’ by stepping up to light-heavyweight in the pursuit of becoming a two-weight champion. Some may feel that this bout exposed certain aspects of the thirty-one-year olds game, particularly his ability to grapple. This might be slightly unfair to the reigning champ, as Adesanya has an impressive takedown defence of 86% at middleweight despite having shared the octagon with some elite wrestlers.
The jump up in weight was a huge task for Israel and this was still a relatively competitive match up.
With that being said, Vettori has given Adesanya his toughest challenge at 185 pounds and he did have some success in the grappling stakes when they last met, managing to land two takedowns on the current titleholder.
The Italian will look to his last meeting with Adesanya (as well as the success Blachowicz enjoyed) and aim to utilise his wrestling to become the next champion. Marvin’s last outing was ideal preparation as he dominated Kevin Holland and incredibly, managed to land eleven successful takedowns.
Vettori is referred to as Angry Marv due to his often-disgruntled demeanour and he carries this into his fighting style. He fights with aggression, looking to come forward and impose himself. The southpaw’s striking isn’t as technical as his counterpart, but it is effective. He walks his opponent down throwing numerous shots, mixing in power kicks to the head and body with flurries of punches.
It is also clear that Vettori has faith that his chin can hold up, having never been stopped (all four of his previous losses came by way of decision). The Kings MMA trained fighter will not allow his opponent to get comfortable. Even if he takes some shots, he will fire back and look to control the centre of the octagon. This will be important against someone like Adesanya who can be so effective when he finds his rhythm.
At 27, Vettori is still developing and would become the youngest current UFC champion across all divisions if he were to be successful on Saturday night.
Vettori is an impressive character. He was only 24 when he fought to a split decision against the current champion and has backed that up with five straight victories against top middleweights.
It is clear that the Italian has huge potential and a big future in the sport. More specific to this match up, he has a lot of the traits required to make it competitive against someone like Adesanya, strong grappling, great conditioning and an ability to push the pace for five rounds.
If he is to be victorious, I can see him implementing a high pace game plan, while mixing in his wrestling, to prevent Adesanya getting comfortable.
Despite this, Adesanya is just so precise with his striking and I don’t see how Marvin will be able to overcome this. Technique beats aggression for me and that’s why I’m taking Israel Adesanya to retain his strap.
Israel Adesanya (By decision)
Figueiredo vs Moreno
The co-main event on Saturday night sees Deiveson Figueiredo rematch Brandon Moreno after they fought to a majority draw back in December of last year. The build up to their last bout was unprecedented, as both Figueiredo and Moreno competed just three weeks prior and made history by fighting at back-to-back Pay-Per-View events.
Fortunately for both fighters and fans alike, they have been afforded six months rest before going to war again and so should be entering the cage in prime condition after what was a very taxing 2020 (both men having fought three times).
Their first meeting was a phenomenal encounter with Brandon Moreno’s resilience and heart matching the sheer strength and pressure of Figueiredo.
Figueiredo will look to set the pace once again on Saturday night, coming forward and using his jab to set up his powerful right hand. Deiveson fights primarily from an orthodox stance with an extensive range of movement, looking to create angles to get his shots off.
If you see Figgy switching to southpaw, expect him to fire off kicks to the body and head of Moreno. The champion throws every punch with power which may cause fatigue to set in. And while there were some lulls in their last meeting, it was a big statement from the Brazilian that he was able to finish the fight strong.
The former hair stylist has only a single defeat in his MMA career, a decision loss against Justin Formiga back in March 2019 where his wrestling was exposed. To be an all-time great, a fighter cannot afford to have a weak area and Deiveson has looked to correct this.
Since this defeat, the BJJ black belt has managed two submission victories and his defensive grappling has looked much improved, attacking from his guard or else getting his feet to the hips to create space for a scramble.
Moreno surprised many in their last meeting and he will look to cause a further upset this weekend. While nobody was discounting the heart of Moreno prior to the first bout, few realised just how tough the Tijuana-born fighter really is. Moreno absorbed everything Figgy had to offer and kept firing back.
In terms of striking, he fights from an orthodox stance and looks to lead with a very sharp jab or even a lead hook before rushing in with a combination. He also likes to throw a lot of leg kicks to disrupt his opponent’s rhythm. And while the twenty-seven-year old was on the back foot for a lot of their last meeting, he seemed to enjoy success when he bit down on his mouthguard and countered with wild combinations.
As for grappling, Moreno is quite opportunistic with offensive wrestling and has a knack of securing unexpected takedowns. He leaned on this to secure four takedowns in their last meeting. The Mexican has ten submission wins to his name and will look to capitalise on any mistake from Figgy. Defensively, the challenger stays active and looks to scramble or reverse any takedown attempts.
Moreno is a very gamey opponent. He will keep looking for a path to victory no matter how the fight is going and has showed this time and time again. He is extremely tough, and it is no surprise that he has not been stopped in his twenty-six professional fights.
While it will be difficult to live up to the precedent both men set when they met last met, this should be a highly entertaining scrap. I still see this fight in the favour of Figueiredo. There are very few 125-pounders who possess the kind of power of the thirty-three-year old. I expect Figueiredo to impose himself early on and control the fight.
For Moreno, he will be full of confidence having gone five rounds with the reigning champ and felt his power. If the challenger can create moments of chaos, he could find himself enjoying some success. He will also need to mix in his wrestling as he has done previously. In those tight rounds when both men are letting their fists fly, a successfully takedown could prove to be the difference for the judges.