Israel Adesanya remains the king of the middleweight division.
Adesanya (21-1) responded to the first loss of his MMA career by putting on a clinic against Marvin Vettori. This was a rematch from 2018, which Adesanya won by split decision. The sequel was rightfully scored a unanimous decision victory for Adesanya. Vettori (17-5-1) had no answer for Adesanya’s calf kicks, and Adesanya also showed off a remarkably improved takedown defense and even stronger grappling. The middleweight division runs through Adesanya, and right now, he has no peer. Although he could defend the title in a rematch against Robert Whittaker, it would be great to see Adesanya seek redemption against Jan Blachowicz.
Another highlight took place when Brandon Moreno crowned himself the new undisputed alpha of the flyweight division. And with that win, a division that was once thought to be dead now has new life.
This victory is quite a noteworthy achievement. Moreno (19-5-2) was cut by the UFC in 2018, yet worked his way back to the promotion and is now the first Mexico-born UFC champion. Deiveson Figueiredo was classy in defeat, and he was a step behind Moreno from the opening bell. Figueiredo (20-2-1) was simply worn down by the third round, which is when Moreno locked on a rear naked choke for the win—and put the finishing touches on one of the UFC’s best moments of the year. A fight pitting Moreno against Henry Cejudo would be a must-see.
This card was chock full of great moments. This was also on display in defeat as, despite not coming away with a win, Nate Diaz’s legend continued to grow. Diaz (20-13) lost by unanimous decision to Leon Edwards, and there were long stretches in that fight that belonged solely to Edwards (19-3, 1 NC). But the crowd was overwhelming in their support for Diaz.
Despite getting battered, bloodied and bruised throughout five rounds, Diaz hammered Edwards with a straight left hand in the closing moments of the fifth round, and he came precariously close to landing that knockout punch before the bell. Diaz somehow wins even when he loses, and he comes away from this bout an even bigger icon than he was before stepping in the cage. The win also gives Edwards even more reason to have a shot at the welterweight title.
Another MMA pioneer on the card was Demian Maia, and he also lost to a younger, dangerous fighter in his prime, this being Belal Muhammad. A win here would have tied Maia (28-11) for most victories in UFC history with 23, but he remains one short of the record set by Donald Cerrone. Muhammad (19-3, 1 NC) showcased some elite takedown defense, thwarting 20 of Maia’s takedown attempts. Even though Maia is on the decline, this is an important victory for Muhammad. He now takes another step up the ladder in the welterweight division. If Edwards doesn’t get the title shot next, a rematch with Muhammad, which ended in a no contest last March following an accidental eye poke, would be a compelling bout.
The card opened with Paul Craig showcasing his technical mastery against Jamahal Hill. Craig (15-4-1) locked on a vicious armbar that badly dislocated the left arm of Hill (8-1, 1 NC), and the referee was forced to stop the fight before even two minutes had passed in the opening round.
The core of MMA was on display at UFC 263. From Adesanya’s entrance, Moreno’s emotional title win, and the bloody brilliance of Diaz, this card was a celebration of the sport. And the fighters, to their credit, delivered, especially Adesanya and Moreno.
MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: ISRAEL ADESANYA (c) VS. MARVIN VETTORI -- 12:44 AM ET
Israel Adesanya’s reign atop the middleweight division continues.
For the second time in as many tries, Adesanya (21-1) defeated Marvin Vettori, this time by unanimous decision. It was a striking clinic by Adesanya, and though Vettori (17-5-1) was able to score takedowns, he could not never capitalize.
Ten minutes into the fight, Adesanya had succeeded in fatiguing Vettori. Adesanya then put a beating on Vettori’s right leg, pounding him with leg kicks. Vettori never adjusted, and Adesanya’s low calf kick was vicious. Vettori attempted to use Jan Blachowicz’s game plan, but he simply does not have that same size or strength.
A rather impressive moment occurred during the fourth round, as Adesanya flipped a Vettori takedown. As the fight progressed, this was a clinic by Adesanya, who showed how much he has evolved as a fighter. And he re-enters the win column, clearly defeating a talented opponent in Vettori.
FLYWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT: DEIVESON FIGUEIREDO (c) VS. BRANDON MORENO -- 12:01 AM ET
Brandon Moreno is the new undisputed king of the flyweight division.
Moreno (19-5-2) took control of the fight in the opening moments, and he systematically wore down Deiveson Figueiredo, forcing him to tap in the third round. Figueiredo (20-2-1) locked on a rear naked choke, one that Figueiredo could not break.
The win gives new energy to the flyweight division. Moreno is one of the more exciting fighters in the UFC, and he was forced to overcome a massive obstacle in solving Figueiredo. He dominated and then submitted Figueiredo, and this is one of those moments that meant so much in front of a live crowd. The moment was electric, especially for someone that was once cut by the UFC. Only three years later, Moreno is now the first-ever Mexico-born UFC champion.
WELTERWEIGHT FIGHT: NATE DIAZ VS. LEON EDWARDS -- 11:11 PM ET
In a fight full of showmanship and gamesmanship, Leon Edwards demolished Nate Diaz, winning the fight by unanimous decision.
Diaz (20-13) took a thorough beating, from his head to his legs. He was covered in blood, and Edwards (19-3, 1 NC) was so precise in his attack. But it is simply impossible to ever count out Diaz, who had a late surge in the fifth round that put him on the cusp of victory. Diaz drilled Edwards with a straight left hand, and it looked like a knockout was in play. If Diaz had 30 more seconds, he may have won this fight, but the majority of the bout was controlled by Edwards.
This was a five-round fight, the first time that happened in the UFC when it was not a title bout or main event. This wasn’t even a co-main, yet it was an outstanding five rounds of fighting. The third-ranked Edwards furthers his case for a title shot, and Diaz once again shows why he is one of the most beloved fighters in the world.
WELTERWEIGHT FIGHT: BELAL MUHAMMAD VS. DEMIAN MAIA — 10:40 PM ET
It wasn’t the prettiest fight of his career, but it now lives on in the win column for Belal Muhammad, who defeated Demian Maia by unanimous decision.
This win helps position Muhammad (19-3, 1 NC) for his welterweight division ascent. He entered this fight at No. 12 in the division, but by beating the No. 9 ranked Maia (28-11), it will play a role in his trajectory toward more high-stake fights in the division.
This marked fight No. 33 for Maia in the UFC, which is remarkable. He is an MMA icon, and even at the age of 43, remains a phenomenal Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. A win would have tied Maia with Donald Cerrone for the most wins in UFC history at 23, but that was not to be.
Muhammad’s lateral movement adds another element to his elite fighting. Maia prevented him from getting in any significant offense in the opening round, but that changed in rounds two and three. Muhammad’s takedown defense was also outstanding, blocking 20 different takedown attempts, preventing Maia from exerting his will. And as solid as Maia still is while still showing shades of his old self with his relentlessness, he is clearly no longer the same fighter.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT: JAMAHAL HILL VS. PAUL CRAIG — 10:21 PM ET
Paul Craig finished Jamahal Hill in the opening round.
Craig (15-4-1) is unorthodox, but he is so dangerous off his back with chain submissions. It looked like he dislocated, or potentially even fractured, the left arm of Hill (8-1, 1 NC). The referee was forced to stop the bout, which he should have done even sooner. That was a very gnarly finish, the type that is rarely on display in the cage.
Craig wins the fight via technical submission, and the MMA world needs to take note of his jiu-jitsu.
UFC 263 is a night for more than redemption for Israel Adesanya. His main event against Marvin Vettori is a chance for renewal, once again showcasing his dominance as one of the premier fighters in the world.
Following the first defeat of his MMA career, Adesanya (20-1) seeks to reclaim his aura against Vettori (17-4-1). This is a rematch from April 2018, which Adesanya claimed by split decision, with the added caveat that Adesanya’s middleweight title is on the line. Vettori will attempt to follow the blueprint of Jan Blachowicz, the light heavyweight champ, which will be to wrestle Adesanya and control the fight on the mat. While that is a solid plan, it will be difficult to execute without Blachowicz’s size and power.
A second title fight on the 263 card is another rematch, pitting flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo against Brandon Moreno. Their last meeting was each of their previous fights, and it was a sensational, back-and-forth bout. Figueiredo (20-1-1) and Moreno (18-5-2) fought to a draw, and it was particularly enthralling to watch Moreno endure so much punishment from Figueiredo, and yet still come back to do some damage of his own.
The card also features the return of Nate Diaz, who fights a top welterweight contender in third-ranked Leon Edwards. Long overdue for a title shot, Edwards (18-3, 1 NC) cannot afford to come away with a defeat. Even as a massive favorite, that is no guarantee against the ever-dangerous Diaz (20-12). The crowd in Arizona will erupt if Diaz is able to pull off a shocking submission victory.
Another welterweight bout on the card pits Demian Maia against Belal Muhammad. With the 43-year-old Maia (28-10) now in the twilight of his career, this is a perfect opportunity for Muhammad (18-3, 1 NC) to add a unique victory his portfolio. And the card opener, which is a meeting of light heavyweight in Jamahal Hill (8-0, 1 NC) and Paul Craig (14-4-1), should be a barnburner to kick off the pay per view.