Two ultra-entertaining champions meet their fiercest divisional rivals once again this Saturday (June 12, 2021) when Israel Adesanya and Deiveson Figueiredo look to settle their scores against Marvin Vettori and Brandon Moreno, respectively. Also in ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV) action this weekend inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., are Welterweight contender Leon Edwards, who fights Nate Diaz in a special five-round attraction, and Brazilian legend Demian Maia, who seeks a much-needed win against Belal Muhammad.
155 lbs.: Drew Dober vs. Brad Riddell
Despite struggling early in his UFC career, Drew Dober (23-10) smashed his way into Lightweight contention with a 6-1 run that saw him brutally knock out Nasrat Haqparast and Alexander Hernandez. This set up a contender clash with Islam Makhachev, who choked the Elevation product out at UFC 259.
Sixteen of his professional wins have come inside the distance, nine of them via submission.
Brad Riddell (9-1) made an immediate impact in UFC thanks to his insane “Fight of the Night” debut against Jamie Mullarkey and subsequent upset over Magomed Mustafaev. “Quake” put on yet another show against Brazilian prospect Alex da Silva in Sept. 2020 and was all set to fight Gregor Gillespie the following March before withdrawing because of COVID protocols.
He’s the shorter man by an inch but boasts a one-inch reach advantage.
I can’t always follow UFC’s logic when it comes to selecting featured “Prelims” bouts, but there’s no arguing with this one. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine this pair of skilled, powerful, durable strikers with ultra-deep gas tanks not producing a 15-minute classic. While I’ll admit to underestimating Dober in the past, I find myself leaning “Quake’s” way, as his considerable kickboxing experience makes it hard to imagine him losing what figures to be a pure stand up affair.
Riddell does tend to start slow, however, and Dober’s newfound power may be sufficient to do some real damage. Once Riddell gets going, though, his compact combinations look poised to carry the day, especially since he won’t have to focus on takedown defense like he did against his first three Octagon foes. In the end, the Kiwi grits his way to a hugely entertaining decision.
Prediction: Riddell via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Eryk Anders vs. Darren Stewart
Eryk Anders (13-5) clawed his way out of a 1-4 hole by viciously knocking out Vinicius Moreira and edging out Gerald Meerschaert upon his return to Middleweight. Then came a loss to Krzysztof Jotko and subsequent clash with Stewart, which saw Anders nearly put away “The Dentist” before landing an illegal knee that forced a “No Contest.”
“Ya Boi” has one inch of height and reach on Darren Stewart (12-6).
Stewart put an 0-3 (1 NC) Octagon run behind him to win four of his next five, the sole loss a split decision to then-unbeaten Edmen Shahbazyan. He now finds himself 1-2 (1 NC) in his last four, falling to Kevin Holland by razor-thin decision and suffering the aforementioned “No Contest” his last two times out.
His eight finishes feature seven knockouts.
One of the main reasons I picked Stewart to win the first time was that I believed Anders couldn’t hurt him, an idea the former football ace quickly proved ill-conceived. The knee-jerk reaction, then, is to pick Anders to repeat his earlier efforts without the sour ending, but I just can’t convince myself to follow through. Stewart is still considerably more consistent than Anders, whose only definitive victory in his last seven fights came against four-time UFC knockout victim Moreira, and managed to stay conscious despite Anders’ best efforts.
Stewart’s incredible resilience and considerable power of his own have me expecting a reversal of fortune, even if I can’t find a way to justify it in words. In short, he wars his way to a narrow victory, surviving the early blitz to take over late.
Prediction: Stewart via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Lauren Murphy vs. Joanne Calderwood
Lauren Murphy (14-4) went 1-3 as a UFC Bantamweight before trying her hand as a Flyweight on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26. Though eventual winner Nicco Montano defeated her in the opening round, “Lucky” went on to win five of her next six in the Octagon, including four straight.
She has dispatched eight professional foes via form of knockout, two of them in UFC proper.
Joanne Calderwood (15-5) battled her way into Flyweight contention with a 3-1 run, only to lose her spot at the front of the line to Jennifer Maia in Aug. 2020. “Dr. Kneevil” managed to start her 2021 right, however, handily out-working Jessica Eye en route to a unanimous decision win in January.
She faces a 1.5-inch reach disadvantage despite being the taller of the two.
If both women come out firing on all cylinders, Calderwood wins this without too much trouble. Her crisp, versatile striking offense is a fair bit more effective than Murphy’s gritty boxing, and the Scot has polished her wrestling to the point where Murphy will struggle to get a proper grind going. That said, willingly engaging Maia on the ground was just the latest of Calderwood’s self-inflicted setbacks, and Murphy’s both resilient and determined enough to turn a single mistake into several minutes of slog.
Still, Calderwood has enough of an edge on the feet for me to tentatively lean her way. Provided she sticks to her guns and doesn’t try to match Murphy’s grappling, she racks up enough significant strikes to take a narrow decision.
Prediction: Calderwood via split decision
145 lbs.: Movsar Evloev vs. Hakeem Dawodu
Movsar Evloev (14-0) used his time in M-1 to establish himself as one of Europe’s best Bantamweights, making multiple defenses of the promotion’s title along the way. He has since found similar success as a UFC Featherweight, most recently beating Nik Lentz via split decision in Jan. 2021.
He faces one-inch disadvantages in height and reach.
A boatload of hype — courtesy of his excellent World Series of Fighting (WSOF) run — wasn’t enough to save Hakeem Dawodu (12-1-1) from a 39-second submission loss to Danny Henry in his UFC debut. He’s since managed to right the ship with five consecutive wins, among them decisions over division standouts Julio Arce and Zubaira Tukhugov.
His 12 professional wins feature seven by form of knockout.
Even if he’s struggled to unleash his pre-UFC levels of violence since the Henry debacle, Dawodu is still far and away the best striker Evloev has yet faced, and the stout takedown defense “Mean” Hakeem showed against Tukhugov has me smelling an upset. Even a gunshy Dawodu is more dangerous on the feet than the still-developing Evloev, who lacks the pop to properly exploit Dawodu’s vulnerability to right hands.
The real concern is how long it takes Dawodu to build up a head of steam. Based on their past performances, Evloev will almost certainly win the first round, and the second two figure to be ultra-close. Still, I say Dawodu’s combinations, low kicks and body shots let him eke out another decision.
Prediction: Dawodu via split decision
I could list all the reasons you don’t want to miss UFC 263, but I think they’re pretty self-evident. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember that 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 online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then 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+ PPV.
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