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UFC 263 predictions, preview, and analysis

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the pay-per-view (PPV) market this Sat. night (June 12, 2021) with the UFC 263: “Adesanya vs. Vettori 2” mixed martial arts (MMA) event from inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. As the name would suggest, UFC 263 will be headlined by the 185-pound rematch between Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori, who first went to war at UFC on FOX 29 back in early 2018.

Adesanya escaped “The Grand Canyon State” with a split-decision victory.

LIVE! Watch UFC 268 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

CHAMPIONSHIP DOUBLEHEADER! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the world famous Madison Square Garden in New York City with a compelling pair of world championship rematches on Sat., Nov. 6, 2021. Headlining UFC 268’s blockbuster pay-per-view (PPV) will be Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman as he looks to defend his title once again against arch enemy and No. 1-ranked contender, Colby Covington. The co-main event will see UFC women’s Strawweight queenpin, Rose Najamunas, aim to make it two in a row against former champion and No. 1-seeded contender, Zhang Weili.

Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!

Before “The Last Stylebender” puts his middleweight title on the line against “The Italian Dream,” reigning 125-pound champion Deiveson Figueiredo will run it back with top 125-pound contender Brandon Moreno. “Daco” and “The Assassin Baby” battled to a draw in the UFC 256 main event last December and will (hopefully) settle their championship score once and for all.

In addition, Nate Diaz returns to action against No. 3-ranked welterweight Leon Edwards.

Before we break down tomorrow night’s championship doubleheader, go ahead and take a look at what MMA whiz kid Patrick Stumberg had to say about the ESPN and ESPN+ “Prelims” contests here and here. The latest UFC 263 odds and a complete betting guide for all the “Adesanya vs. Vettori 2” action can be located here.

Let’s get to work.

185 lbs.: UFC Middleweight Champion Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya (20-1) vs. Marvin “The Italian Dream” Vettori (17-4-1)

Marvin Vettori believes he's fighting Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title because their first bout ended in a split decision and they have unfinished business. The reality is that Robert Whittaker was not available to compete in June due to injuries sustained in his last outing. In addition, Paulo Costa and Derek Brunson were already whooped by “The Last Stylebender” and Jared Cannonier is coming off a loss, leaving “The Italian Dream” (No. 3) as the only Top 5 contender eligible for a title shot. That’s not a knock on Vettori, he earned his rematch against Adesanya, but it’s worth noting that he didn’t make the kind of impact at 185 pounds that had fans screaming for part two and here’s why that’s relevant for this prediction.

Like any rematch, we have to build a case for why the fight will go differently the second time around. Vettori has improved as a fighter and made a number of technical adjustments. But so did Adesanya, so we then have to make the argument that Vettori made more improvements and made them more often, closing the gap between himself and Adesanya before eventually surpassing “The Last Stylebender” in overall skills — or at least the skills needed to thwart the lanky striker. I call upon recent performances against Kevin Holland and Jack Hermansson and the evidence just isn’t there. Since losing to Adesanya, Vettori is 5-0 but only has one finish during that span, a 2020 submission victory over Karl Roberson. Adesanya, meanwhile, went on to win his next seven fights at 185 pounds, stopping Whittaker and Costa along the way.

A light heavyweight loss to Jan Blachowicz shouldn’t be ignored, though I also don’t know how much of the Pole’s performance can be replicated by Vettori, a smaller and less powerful fighter who may not have the same advantages on the ground. If he does, why didn't we see them at UFC on FOX 29? I can’t imagine a scenario where Adesanya is working at a deficit on the feet and his takedown defense — even with the loss to Blachowicz — stands at 83 percent. I believe Adesanya has gotten better since he last fought Vettori — against better competition — and will have to turn in a Woodley-esque performance to blow this one. Vettori is a tough out and to his credit, is not afraid to bang with anyone, Adesanya included. But across 25 minutes of action, “The Last Stylebender” is going to start pulling away in the second half of the fight and never look back.

Prediction: Adesanya def. Vettori by unanimous decision

125 lbs.: UFC Flyweight Champion Deiveson “Daco” Figueiredo (20-1-1) vs. Brandon “The Assassin Baby” Moreno (18-5-2)

UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo and top contender Brandon Moreno fought to a majority draw in the UFC 256 main event last December, which on paper suggests the fight was pretty much even across the board.

It wasn’t.

No question their 25-minute war was full of back-and-forth action and most scorecards had Moreno winning the fourth frame, but the fight belonged to Figueiredo and the point deduction for cup mashing likely cost “Daco” the win. The Brazilian also claims he was felled by illness shortly before the fight, allowing “The Assassin Baby” to over-perform, though I’m not sure the result would have been much different. I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest Figueiredo overlooked Moreno and when the big punch didn’t seal the deal, the champ was forced to regroup and grind his way to the finish line.

I think that actually helps Figueiredo the second time around, assuming he approaches this contest with the idea that he needs to put forth a composed, measured attack and not just rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots. I am of the opinion that “Daco” is a better fighter in every department and needs to fight that way, because he’s never going to out-tough a scrappy gamer like Moreno. There’s a reason the Mexican phenom has never been knocked out in 25 professional fights — he’s too goddamn resilient.

Figueiredo is the right pick for their rematch because he’s the better fighter and more dangerous wherever the fight goes. I also think “Daco” will opt for a slower tempo — much to the chagrin of fans hoping for a repeat of UFC 256 — because it takes away Moreno’s ability to unleash hell, something the judges love to see when scoring a championship title fight.

Prediction: Figueiredo def. Moreno by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Leon “Rocky” Edwards (18-3, 1 NC) vs. Nate Diaz (20-12)

This is the kind of matchup that renders the UFC rankings meaningless, because Leon Edwards is ranked No. 3 at 170 pounds and Nate Diaz isn’t ranked at all, so there’s really no reason for them to be fighting. But since Diaz is popular with the cool kids and Edwards is despised by the promotion — which is why he’ll never get a welterweight title shot — matchmakers can justify this oddball pairing, scheduled for five rounds to make sure Diaz gets as much time as possible to eliminate “Rocky” from contention. What, did you think this fight was booked for 25 minutes “for the fans” ... c’mon. They know Edwards is going to see what’s possible on the feet before turning this showcase fight into WrestleMania, so an extra two rounds gives the Stockton slapper another 10 minutes to get it done.

He won’t.

Diaz is a talented boxer with top-shelf submission skills. He’s also a walking punching bag who wins most fights by way of rugged resilience. Am I supposed to get excited because he boxed up a shopworn Anthony Pettis? Jorge Masvidal landed 112 significant strikes when they went to war for that goofy BMF belt back in late 2019. Diaz landed 43. “YeAh BuT dIaZ wAs JuSt GeTtInG wArMeD uP” is the best excuse his dopey fans can come up with, perhaps forgetting Diaz landed triple those numbers in the same amount of time against Pettis. To his credit, the TUF 5 champ always puts forth exciting performances, we just need to abandon this fantasy that Diaz is some kind of top-ranked world beater who is going to mop up the 170-pound weight class.

Edwards has been accused of being boring and that’s not a charge I can defend. Six decisions in eight wins can be a tough sell for today’s action-first fans, who conveniently forget that Georges St-Pierre — one of the most beloved welterweights of all time — finished his 170-pound run with seven straight decision victories. There is simply no justifiable reason to pick against Edwards in this contest. His conditioning is as good as it gets in this sport, so Diaz won’t be able to drag “Rocky” into deep waters late in the fight. In addition, Diaz has some of the worst takedown defense in the promotion, getting taken down more than 50 times inside the Octagon. Unless Edwards abandons all sensibilities and tries to out-box Diaz to make a statement, I would expect the streaking Englishman to rely heavily on his wrestling, a proven formula that will frustrate Diaz (and the fans) en route to a sweep on the judges’ scorecards.

Prediction: Edwards def. Diaz by unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Demian Maia (28-10) vs. Belal “Remember the Name” Muhammad (18-3, 1 NC)

Demian Maia has been competing for UFC for nearly 14 years and has worked his way up to championship title fights in two different weight classes. He may not be remembered as one of the greatest of all time, but considering how quickly athletes come and go in this brutal sport, that kind of longevity is nothing short of amazing. That said, his time as a competitive welterweight is long gone and he’s not going to get any gifts from Belal Muhammad like he did against Ben Askren back when “Funky” was still fumbling around the cage.

Maia has below-average striking but managed to carve out a respectable career with his takedowns and world-class jiu jitsu. Considering the Brazilian turns 44 in November, I’m not sure he’s got the speed or power to use his wrestling effectively. Muhammad has only been taken down twice in his UFC career and boasts a takedown defense of 85 percent. Maia could certainly make it an ugly fight, like he did against Jorge Masvidal, I’m just not sure that’s a realistic expectation against an athlete 12 years his junior. Prior to getting his eyes gouged out at UFC Vegas 21, Muhammad won four straight and eight of his last nine and has been in cruise control for the past several years.

Expect Maia to shoot early and often, then spend the time in between getting boxed up on his feet. This is probably the last time we’ll see the Brazilian inside the cage so from a sentimental standpoint, many fans (present company included) will be rooting for him to go out on top. But what we want and what we get are typically two different things. Muhammad is the younger, better all-around fighter who’s competing in his prime. That will become pretty evident as Maia starts to fade midway through the second stanza.

Prediction: Muhammad def. Maia by unanimous decision

205 lbs.: Paul “Bearjew” Craig (14-4-1) vs. Jamahal “Sweet Dreams” Hill (8-0, 1 NC)

Paul Craig had a less-than-exceptional start to his UFC career, going 4-4 with all four losses coming by way of knockout or submission. Fortunately for the “Bearjew,” a fan-friendly draw against light heavyweight legend Mauricio Rua put him on the map, where he’s since gone 2-0 with two finishes, including a revenge knockout against “Shogun” at UFC 255. Before we get too excited about his rebound, we need to recognize that Gadzhimurad Antigulov has been stopped in four straight fights and Rua is held together by popsicle sticks and duct tape. For my money, this is the matchup that tells us where Craig sits at 205 pounds as he quickly approaches his 34th birthday.

Jamahal Hill blasted his way into UFC by macerating Alexander Poppeck on Season 3 of Dana White’s “Contender Series,” then won three straight fights, which included consecutive knockouts over Klidson Abreu and Ovince Saint Preux. “Sweet Dreams” would eventually have his Abreu win overturned after testing positive for marijuana, but for the purposes of this column, that violent win will be recognized. It’s probably still too early to be talking about the future of the division, at least when it comes to Hill and his place among the 205-pound elite, a mistake most of us made with the career of Johnny Walker.

Craig is a well-rounded light heavyweight with twice the experience of Hill. I just don’t believe “Bearjew” will be able to handle the speed of his younger, faster opponent, especially when you consider that three of his four losses have come by way of knockout. Craig has a formidable wrestling attack and he’s going to need it, though 15 minutes is a long time to stay out of the red zone, particularly when a guy like Hill is dialed in.

Prediction: Hill def. Craig by knockout

Remember, UFC 263 “Prelims” predictions can be found here and here.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 263 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 263: “Adesanya vs. Vettori 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the entire UFC 263 fight card and PPV line up click here.