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UFC 263 in-depth: Can Israel Adesanya survive without his air of invincibility?

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Looking passed the usual ranking implications, predictions and week-to-week momentum shifts.

Confidence is everything in fighting.

It’s a sports “truth” repeated perhaps to the point of cliche, but it’s one seen in many different forms each week throughout UFC competition. Some unheralded veteran on the undercard will string together three or four wins, and suddenly he performs like a new man, ready for the Top 10. It’s not that he’s completely changed his skill set or preparation, but positive results breeds confidence, which can rapidly grow into a self-feeding cycle.

Israel Adesanya is certainly an example of a confident fighter, one with strong self-belief. In the four-month span between Adesanya’s UFC debut opposite Rob Wilkinson and his first main event slot vs. Brad Tavares, everything changed. Adesanya’s skills skyrocketed by an unreasonable degree, which was not the result of suddenly improving dramatically.

He gained the confidence to make full use of the skills he already had.

LIVE! Stream UFC 266 Here

CHAMPIONSHIP DOUBLEHEADER! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to T-Mobile Arena with a pair of thrilling world championship bouts. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 29 coaches collide when Featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, defends his title against No. 2-ranked contender, Brian Ortega. UFC 266’s co-main event will see women’s Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko go for her sixth consecutive title defense when she meets No. 3-seeded contender, Lauren Murphy. Last, and certainly not least, Nick Diaz returns against former Welterweight roost ruler, Robbie Lawler, in a five-round banger.

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

If we fast-forward a bit to 2021, Adesanya has just suffered the first loss of his professional fight career. He did so in a bold (confident) attempt to capture two titles, fully believing that he could dispatch Jan Blachowicz from his usual walk around weight. The Polish veteran brought him back to reality, patiently work his jab, body kicks, and some well-timed takedowns (watch highlights).

It’s not easy to lose a 25-minute decision. Unless it’s a split-decision, there’s no easy excuse — that’s too much time. Adesanya had plenty of opportunities to adjust his strategy or time that knockout blow, but it didn’t happen. Nor can he blame it on bad luck like one could explain away a quick knockout loss.

Blachowicz was simply the better man.

For many fighters, this type of loss is devastating. How does one believe himself the best fighter alive when presented with starkly contradictory evidence? Adesanya, fortunately, proved his confidence intact almost immediately, responding well in the immediate aftermath to maintain his champion’s swagger.

That does mean the loss leaves Adesanya unscathed. Blachowicz is champion for a reason, but none of his qualities are that unattainable: a solid chin, technical kickboxing, serviceable wrestling. Top contenders at 185 pounds have these attributes also, and they proved enough to topple “Stylebender.”

There have been nights where Adesanya looked invincible. Knocking out Robert Whittaker, dismantling Paulo Costa without getting touched, the aforementioned showcase opposite Tavares — performances like these affect how the world perceives Adesanya, and that includes his Middleweight peers.

Moving forward, contenders are likely to come at Adesanya with a new level of confidence. They have seen his feints falter and his ground work fail to overcome top position. They now know where at least one path to victory lies, and that knowledge is invaluable.

Marvin Vettori has never been a man lacking for confidence, but he’s very clearly a prospect who came into his own on the big stage. He’s riding a major win streak, showing fight-to-fight improvement, and just watched Adesanya look unusually human. He even has the bonus edge that he’s eaten Adesanya’s strikes and walked away just fine.

There are many reasons Vettori is going to take the fight to “Stylebender.” On the flip side, Adesanya has never been solely flash without substance — he had to actually kick ass to develop the invincible reputation, after all. The end result is likely to be an incredible fight, as both men fully believe they’re leaving the cage strapped with gold.

Remember that 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.

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.