UFC Fight Night - PrelimsSep 24
We’ve got a belting night of fights coming your way on Saturday evening as the UFC heads to the GIla River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, for UFC 263.
With a packed card featuring some thrilling contests across the prelims and beyond, you won’t want to be anywhere else for your fix of top level MMA.
Here are the five main talking points ahead of UFC 263: Adesayna vs Vettori 2, live on BT Sport 1 HD this Saturday night.
The king’s comeback
For the first time in his MMA career, Israel Adesanya will enter the Octagon on the back of a defeat having been outmuscled by Jan Blachowicz to the light heavyweight crown at UFC 259.
The favourite heading into that contest in March, Adesanya’s ambitions of becoming a two-weight king were crushed by the powerful Pole who was good value for his win after five convincing rounds.
Speaking after the fight at UFC 259, the ice-cool, Nigerian-born New Zealander did not appear too hung up on having lost his ‘0’.
“Losses are a part of life and losses are something I deal with occasionally,” Adesanya said.
“This is my first in MMA but as the saying goes, ‘It is what it is’.”
Exactly what lessons were learned from that defeat are yet to be determined, given Adesanya gave up a significant weight advantage before having his wings clipped, but ‘The Last Stylebender’ remains the undisputed king of his native middleweight division.
Composure and calmness have always been two of the middleweight king’s greatest strengths but his ability to thrive under pressure will surely be tested in the wake of his first ever defeat.
You’d have got long odds on Marvin Vettori succeeding Israel Adesanya as the next middleweight champion when the Italian fighter dropped a split decision loss to his rival back in 2018.
That result compounded a miserable run of just one win in four fights that threatened to leave Vettori exiled in relative anonymity among the middleweight landscape.
But since then, the 27-year-old has worked obsessively to improve himself, steered by the expert tutelage of fabled MMA coach Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA.
The results are there for all to see: a perfect five-fight win streak since his first meeting with Adesanya catapulted Vettori back to the top of the division, sweeping top contenders like Jack Hermansson and Kevin Holland from his path along the way.
History will be made on Saturday night if Vettori can upset the odds to claim UFC gold, becoming the first Italian champion in the company's history – an achievement the man from Trento dreams of fulfilling.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything [in the sport] yet,” Vettori told Sports Illustrated this week.
“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.”
It’s fair to say the flyweight division has not always been the biggest draw among fans of the UFC, but don’t be surprised to see Deiveson Figueiredo vs Brandon Moreno snatch the limelight on Saturday night.
A rematch of their UFC 256 main event which ended in a majority draw after a thrilling five-round war, the two men will do battle for the 125lb title once again in the co-main event this weekend.
Expect a ferocious pace, some frantic scrambles and a relentless barrage of strikes from both directions as two of the meanest flyweights on the planet resume pleasantries at the Gila River Arena.
Having almost single-handedly resurrected a flyweight division doomed for closure, Brazilian powerhouse Figueiredo now looks to be carving out a legacy as one of the most entertaining champions in flyweight history.
But any great champion needs a cast of worthy challengers – and Moreno has proven himself to be exactly that.
The Mexican pushed Figueiredo to the very limit last time out and is as game as they come; a two-time world champion outside the UFC, Moreno’s never been stopped, never been submitted and is a capable finisher himself.
Speaking ahead of the rematch however, Figueiredo advised fans not to expect another lengthy war as he promised to deliver a first round knockout of the number one contender.
“Saturday the fans will see the real Deiveson in the Octagon and it's time for Moreno to have his nightmare. I'll beat him in the first round,” the 33-year-old said.
“In the first fight, he was able to take me down, but it will not happen now. I'm bringing a much more versatile game and also some surprises to him. He will pay for all bulls*** he said about me.”
Rocky’s road to the top
Leon Edwards could not have dreamt of a more perfect dance partner, on his campaign to cement his status as the number one welterweight contender, than Nate Diaz.
Despite sitting on one of the longest win streaks in the division, detractors of the Birmingham fighter maintain his record lacks impact when compared with many of his peers atop the 170lb division.
Wins against the likes of Gunnar Nelson, Vicente Luque and Rafael dos Anjos should not be discounted – but victory against a bonafide superstar like Diaz would undoubtedly elevate both Edwards’ record and, more importantly, his profile to another level.
Diaz is one of the most recognisable faces in the UFC, boasting a huge cult following and attracting massive audiences to his fights.
Now 36 - and with a fair few miles on the clock – there will be questions over how much the American has left in the tank and Edwards, who may be one of the few fighters in the division capable of matching Diaz’s famously-relentless cardio, appears well placed to send the Stockton fighter off into the sunset.
Edwards will be desperate to restore some momentum in his career after a rotten run of luck lately.
First, a proposed showdown against rising star Khamzat Chimaev was cancelled with the Russian still struggling from the lingering effects of contracting Covid-19.
Then, after nearly two years out of the Octagon, his showdown against late replacement Belal Muhammad, with whom he shares the card this weekend, was ruled a no contest in the second round after a horrifying accidental eye poke left Muhammad unable to continue the fight.
Having had little to cheer about over the past few years, Rocky’s fans will be desperate to see their man make an impression in the spotlight this weekend.
Can Edwards deliver on his promise and lay claim to the number one contender spot?
Bearjew in the big time
Paul Craig looks to continue his best run of form in the UFC by picking up a third consecutive victory when he takes on Jamahal Hill on Saturday night.
Scotland’s Craig endured a rocky few years on his arrival in the UFC, losing four of his first seven fights.
Since then however, the 33-year-old appears to have settled into life as an elite competitor in the 205lb division and is unbeaten in his last four outings including a career-best performance in stopping former UFC champ Shogun Rua last time out.
Now ranked 14 in the light heavyweight division, one place above Hill, Craig believes his grappling will triumph in a clash of styles on Saturday.
Speaking to Mirror Fighting this week, Craig said: "It's been a very long camp, six months of the same drills, preparing for the same fighter, Bruce Lee said you should fear the man not who knows 1,000 kicks, but who has practiced one kick 1,000 times.
"Maybe I'm being arrogant, but I just feel that my skillset marries better than his, I'm much better at striking, at grappling, and as a fighter you need that attitude."
Watch UFC 263: Adesanya vs Vettori 2 from 1am on Saturday night, live on BT Sport 1 HD.