Marvin Vettori first met Israel Adesanya in the Octagon in April 2018. That was the last time Vettori (17-4-1) tasted defeat, losing by split decision, and he seeks to atone that loss on Saturday in a middleweight title bout at UFC 263.
Adesanya (20–1) rattled off seven straight wins after defeating Vettori, which included winning and defending the UFC middleweight championship. Vettori has won all five of his fights since the Adesanya loss, including an impressive showing on ABC this past April against Kevin Holland.
In his last fight, Adesanya moved up weight classes to challenge Jan Błachowicz for the light heavyweight title. That ended in a unanimous decision defeat as the bigger Błachowicz used his wrestling and size to dominate on the mat. Vettori now seeks to capitalize on that same blueprint, avenging his prior loss to Adesanya while also becoming the new middleweight champ.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Vettori discussed the opportunity in front of him at UFC 263, why he has the advantage against Adesanya, and his journey from Italy to the UFC.
Sports Illustrated: You have been so impressive in your last three fights, especially the win against Kevin Holland. Altogether, it’s been five wins in a row for you since the fight against Adesanya. Has that loss given you a stronger desire to be perfect in the cage?
Marvin Vettori: The fact that I’m fighting for the title, it’s made me do even more. I didn’t even know I could do more, but I did. My training is very methodical, and that’s given me the ability to step it up in every area.
I’m in the best shape of my life, and my camp came together and wants this as bad as I do. I’m going to be a different animal for this fight, and there is no way for him to prepare for it. I’m going to look like the champion.
SI: Your last two bouts, against Holland and Jack Hermansson, have been five-round fights. Will that help you go the distance on Saturday?
MV: I always knew I could go five rounds, and I showed that. I’m ready, and I’m prepared to go five rounds.
SI: Adesanya is such a dynamic fighter. Having been in the Octagon with him before and now training for him twice, you know him well. What do you expect to see from him in this fight?
MV: I expect him to be evasive. I expect him to throw kicks. But I’m ready. Whatever he brings, I’m ready. He’s not going to learn grappling; he’s not going to learn jiujitsu. He’s going to do what he does. He may have improved, but I don’t think he really added to his game. His last fight showed a big part of his arsenal, and a big part of it was similar to what he’s always done.
I’m just a better fighter. He’s not going to have any answers [for me].
SI: I know losing is never the desired outcome, but after falling to Adesanya in your first meeting, that gives you the opportunity to reassess and redevelop a game plan for this rematch. Does that part of the fight game excite you?
MV: I love it. I can feel that drive. That energy, it’s just amazing.
SI: Entering UFC 263, Adesanya is coming off a loss. I’m sure he’ll be particularly motivated to defend his title and reassert his dominance. Does that give him an edge here?
MV: From the beginning, I never believed the hype. They tried to say he was undefeated. This guy has lost in everything he’s ever done. He lost in kickboxing; he’s lost in every discipline he’s ever competed in. Now he’s lost in MMA.
I know how hard I train. That’s what I believe. I don’t believe in any hype, and I definitely don’t believe his hype. I don’t give a damn how he comes out. He’s just going to lose.
SI: Reflecting on your journey, it’s amazing that you’ve built a path from back home in Trento, Italy, to headlining UFC 263. You’re only 27 and you have already established yourself in this sport, with such incredible sacrifice behind your accomplishments. Have you taken a moment to allow your own accomplishments to sink in, or are you focused solely on this moment?
MV: The funny thing is, I don’t feel like I’ve done anything yet. I’m never satisfied, which is a double-edged sword. But I have this hungry mindset. I want to be the best. That’s what drives me. I never give up on myself; I just go after it and keep learning.
Most of the focus in Italy is on soccer. I’m happy to help this sport get recognized in Italy, and I’m happy to get the recognition I deserve. I want to help by setting the example in this sport and show that it’s doable.
But in my mind, I still haven’t done it yet. That’s why I have this sense of urgency. And I feel way more urgency right now. Maybe that’s what sets me apart. When I wake up in the morning, I just want to f------ smash the day. I want to be the best in the world and become the first Italian UFC champion.
SI: Do you need the title to validate your success?
MV: If you’re that good, that’s where you should be there. So yes, that is my goal, to be UFC champion. When I have that belt around my waist, I’ll be the best in the world. And that’s why all my focus is on this fight.
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