UFC 263: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Glendale

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2021

UFC 263: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Glendale

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    Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

    Sequels don't always match the originals.

    But UFC czar Dana White and Co. are hoping you'll give them another try.

    The octagonal conglomerate will offer a pair of championship rematches in the main and co-main event slots at its next pay-per-view extravaganza—UFC 263—set for June 12 in Glendale, Arizona.

    About 10 miles outside downtown Phoenix, the 19,000-capacity Gila River Arena will host a second go-round between middleweights Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori, this time for the 185-pound title that Adesanya won a year after beating Vettori by split decision in a three-rounder.

    That fight was at the same venue, on a Fight Night show topped by Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje.

    This time, it's the lead bout supported by a co-main matching flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo and challenger Brandon Moreno, who'll run back a split-decision draw from UFC 256 in December.

    Bout No. 3 is the UFC's first non-title, non-main event still scheduled for five rounds, and pits lightning-rod welterweight Nate Diaz against third-ranked contender Leon Edwards in a match that had been slotted as the co-main at UFC 262 in Houston before Diaz sustained an injury.

    Twelve other fights round out the main and preliminary cards and will include myriad up-and-comers, familiar veterans and others simply hoping to boost their profiles for the next time around.

    The B/R combat sports team took a look at the menu and pulled out a few of the tastier highlights.


    UFC 263 Main Card (PPV)

    Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori

    Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno

    Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz

    Demian Maia vs. Belal Muhammad

    Paul Craig vs. Jamahal Hill


    UFC 263 Preliminary Card

    Drew Dober vs. Brad Riddell

    Eryk Anders vs. Darren Stewart

    Lauren Murphy vs. Joanne Calderwood

    Movsar Evloev vs. Hakeem Dawodu

    Pannie Kianzad vs. Alexis Davis

    Frank Camacho vs. Matt Frevola

    Sijara Eubanks vs. Karol Rosa

    Chase Hooper vs. Steven Peterson

    Fares Ziam vs. Luigi Vendramini

    Carlos Felipe vs. Jake Collier

Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    It's not the fight Israel Adesanya was expecting to take.

    King of the middleweights since April 2019, the New Zealand-based striking machine climbed to light heavyweight after three successful title defenses and entered a bout at UFC 259 with Jan Blachowicz as the favorite to become the UFC's latest two-division champ.

    Instead, he returns to the 185-pound ranks looking to rebuild his aura against a former foe.

    Adesanya was outlanded on the feet and manhandled on the ground for the majority of 25 minutes while dropping a wide unanimous decision to Blachowicz—his first loss in 21 career MMA bouts.

    His comeback coincides with the recent rise of Marvin Vettori, who's won six straight fights since losing a narrow nod to Adesanya in April 2018. That fight ended with three 29-28 scorecards—two in Adesanya's favor, one in Vettori's—and saw the now-champ aim to strike while the Italian tried to get to the floor.

    Vettori did scored the fight's lone two takedowns, but he wasn't able to establish control and was on the short end of a 57-46 significant strike tally across 15 minutes. Still, he believes he won the fight and has frequently called Adesanya's name since, particularly as "The Last Stylebender's" profile got higher.

    Incidentally, Adesanya fourth on the UFC's latest pound-for-pound rankings, trailing Jon Jones, Kamaru Usman and Alexander Volkanovski. Vettori is third at middleweight, behind Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa.

    "I just show up and I beat these guys very [clearly]," Vettori said (via MMA Mania), after a Fight Night defeat of Kevin Holland in April. "I leave no doubt. The last fight I had with Adesanya was the closest fight he ever had. In my eyes I still won it. And that fight has to be made again.”

Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    It's hard enough measuring up to your own superlatives.

    Imagine, then, trying to improve on others calling your fight the best in weight-class history.

    That's what no less than Dana White labeled the first showdown between 125-pound champ Deiveson Figueiredo and dogged challenger Brandon Moreno at UFC 256, which was scored a majority draw as Figueiredo was forced to go the five-round distance for the first time in nine years.

    The Brazilian earned a 47-46 verdict on one official scorecard and was deadlocked 47-47 on the other two, meaning winning the fifth round kept him from dropping the title by a majority decision.

    Moreno left the cage with a hideous swelling around his right eye and an injury to his left arm that he said originated when he felt his shoulder pop after throwing a jab. Meanwhile, Figueiredo said after the fight that he'd been in a local hospital at 2 a.m. on fight day with a stomach infection.

    Both men fought and won at UFC 255 just 21 days earlier before turning around and again making the 125-pound limit for their contest. It was the quickest championship turnaround in UFC history.

    Overall, Figueiredo had 137 significant strikes to Moreno's 132. Both men were successful on 50 percent of their takedown attempts—two of four for Figueiredo and four of eight for Moreno.

    "I knew the fight was very close," Moreno said. "I know I wanted the belt, but I feel so happy. We need a rematch. For me. For Figueiredo. For the fans. For everybody."

Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    It's not often the UFC needs to do anything more to ensure fan frenzy than to march out one of its most popular villains, a role in which Diaz has thrived since arriving in 2007.

    He's had 25 fights inside the Octagon and walked away with performance money from more than half, sharing Fight of the Night honors eight times, winning Submission of the Night five times and capturing Knockout of the Night once.

    And that's without mention of the persona-fueled BMF belt created solely for he and Jorge Masvidal before their bout at UFC 244 in November 2019—the last time Diaz stepped competitively inside a cage.

    Sharing the bill in suburban Phoenix is third-ranked welterweight Leon Edwards, a British-based foe who went 2-2 in his first four UFC appearances but had reeled off eight straight wins before an eye poke rendered a March bout with Belal Muhammad a no contest just seconds into the second round.

    The 29-year-old is billed as a striker, but has gained multiple victories by decision, knockout and submission in his career and at least one of each during his win streak. He's also never been stopped or submitted.

    “I’m coming in there to hurt him, I’m coming in there to put him away, I’m coming in there to prove that I am levels above these guys," he told Ariel Helwani (via ESPN MMA). "I truly believe that. I think my combinations of punches, elbows, and kicks is going to hurt him.

    "My grappling, my cardio, I just think I’m the better man in all areas.”

Other Attractions: Making a Welterweight Statement

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    It's already one of the UFC's highest-profile divisions.

    The welterweights boast a dominant champion in Kamaru Usman and he reigns atop a top-five contender list that includes former title challengers Colby Covington and Gilbert Burns, alongside the streaking Leon Edwards, the popular Stephen Thompson and the resurgent Vicente Luque.

    Oh yeah, there's some guy named Jorge Masvidal hanging around, too.

    But just outside the spotlight are a handful of other fighters hoping to take a turn or two of their own in the 170-pound spotlight.

    The last of the three-rounders at UFC 263 will match two of them in the forms of ninth-ranked Demian Maia and 12th-ranked Belal Muhammad, a pair of fighters perhaps heading in opposite directions.

    The 43-year-old Maia has already been beaten in title challenges at both middleweight (Anderson Silva) and welterweight (Tyron Woodley), but fights on.

    The loss to Woodley in 2017 was the first of three straight defeats against top-flight foes, relegating him to three straight wins against lesser lights before another defeat—by first-round TKO—to the aforementioned Burns 14 months ago in Brazil.

    Muhammad, meanwhile, is on a more positive trajectory, having won four straight and eight of nine completed bouts since going just 1-2 in his initial trio of UFC appearances in 2016.

    He was cut short in his most recent appearance, though, when an accidental eye poke stopped a match with Leon Edwards in the second round in March and left it a no contest.

    "Onward and upward," Muhammad said, via Instagram, after the fight was announced. "Have to beat a legend to be a legend."

Best of the Rest

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    Chris Unger/Getty Images

    Paul Craig vs. Jamahal Hill

    As barometers go, Paul Craig represents particularly intense pressure.

    The Scottish veteran has had an up-and-down run since arriving in the UFC in late 2016, but he's a jiu-jitsu ace with a high-revving motor and enough acumen on his feet to present a daunting challenge.

    Taking that challenge will be relative newcomer Jamahal Hill, who earned a contract on Dana White's Contender Series and parlayed it into three wins in 2020 before one was overturned by a drug test.

    It'll be a compelling blend of Hill's athletic striking and Craig's grinding pressure, and the man who'll find the most success will be the one who can maintain the fight in the style of his choice.


    Drew Dober vs. Brad Riddell

    Want a fan-friendly fight that'll entire viewers to drop a few bucks?

    Enter Drew Dober.

    The popular Colorado lightweight has taken home Performance of the Night bonuses from each of his last two wins and finds himself in the featured preliminary bout—read: last chance to get the pay-per-view card—against streaking New Zealand-based import Brad Riddell.

    Riddell has won three straight in the UFC since arriving from the regional circuit and captured Fight of the Night cash for a scorecard defeat of Jamie Mullarkey in 2019.