UFC 263 is all wrapped up and we came out of it with one title changing hands and another title remaining with the incumbent champion.
We start with the main event, where Israel Adesanya took apart a game but way overmatched Marvin Vettori to remain the top dog at 185 lbs. Leg kicks were the story of this one, as Adesanya compromised the Italian’s lead leg right away and never let up. When Vettori did get takedowns Adesanya twice reversed him and on another occasion used the fence to return to his feet. It was a fairly comfortable day at the office for the champion, albeit not the most scintillating. The crowd, which booed damn near any inkling of wrestling or grappling virtually all night, was displeased with Vettori’s pursuit of the takedown but really it was his best chance at victory and Izzy largely shut it down. We even got some Adesanya clowning in the form of grabbing Marvin’s butt at the end of round four, feigning an eye poke injury, and mocking the futile takedowns late on.
No disrespect to Vettori, but there really was not a lot of intrigue when this fight got made and there wasn’t a ton of reason to believe he had a legitimate chance of winning this one. Outside of taking his back and threatening a rear-naked choke he had few notable offensive highlights. Bring on the Robert Whittaker rematch, which will surely be more compelling and interesting than this one was. And yes, I hope that we can see that in front of a full house in New Zealand as Adesanya requested in the post-fight interview.
Meanwhile, Brandon Moreno was almost flawless against Deiveson Figueiredo, dethroning the flyweight king by third-round rear naked choke in a fight that was not close at all. Much of this fight looked nothing like their war at UFC 256, and it was to Moreno’s advantage. He dropped Figueiredo with a jab in the opening round, outscrambled and outgrappled the Brazilian, and had one of the most dangerous offensive fighters in the game looking completely ordinary. Please keep in mind that Moreno was cut in late 2018 when the flyweight division looked to be in jeopardy. Amazing determination by him and there’s no doubt that ‘The Assassin Baby’ has grown leaps and bounds. From the #16 seed in the TUF tournament to briefly off the UFC roster to now the best flyweight in the world is nothing short of sensational and inspirational. It was great to see his emotions pour out in front of his family, as well as Figueiredo graciously pick him up and hoist him as the new champ.
The UFC has never quite taken off in Mexico due to the lack of a Mexican-born champion — Cain Velasquez is not a Mexico native and you know the story of his career — but Moreno made history tonight and this is a monumental day for Mexican MMA. You love the sport for moments like this.
- As expected, Leon Edwards dominated Nate Diaz... and then the end of the 5th happened and Diaz had his moment. Diaz rocked ‘Rocky’ with a straight left that wobbled him badly but Diaz spent a little too much time pointing and not enough time going for the finish. Edwards hung on for dear life to take the decision but man that was crazy. Diaz’s in-cage antics didn’t really work on Edwards and he got busted up by Edwards’ elbows on the ground, but you combine Diaz’s toughness with Edwards’ issues with seriously potent offense and Nate had himself the opportunity for a stunning comeback and upset. It wasn’t enough in the end and now the question is whether or not Edwards gets a title shot off of that. We assume Colby Covington is next for Kamaru Usman but will Edwards fight again or will he sit and wait for Usman and Colby? Lots to think about. It’s good for Edwards to get his first win in two years but that final minute of the final round was nearly disastrous.
- The Demian Maia’s final fight of his UFC contract (and maybe in MMA altogether) was a decision loss to Belal Muhammad, who showed exemplary takedown defense and outstruck the Brazilian jiu jitsu legend to get the unanimous nod on the scorecards. It’s his marquee win to date and while he didn’t set the world on fire, hardly anyone ever does against Maia. The man is going to be a tough out for just about anyone at 170 and expect him to get another step up in competition soon.
- Can we please go a PPV without someone breaking their arm or leg? Jamahal Hill vs. Paul Craig was striker vs. grappler and the grappler won in gnarly fashion. Craig caught Hill in an armbar and caused Hill’s left arm to dislocate. Hill never tapped, kept punching with his right arm while eating elbows and trapped in a triangle choke while his left arm flopped around like a wet noodle. Referee Al Guinee waited way too long to stop it. Another huge win for the Scottish submission specialist as he halts the Jamahal Hill hype train.
- Brad Riddell and Drew Dober went to war and delivered the fight fans wanted to see. We got high-level striking and back-and-forth drama, culminating in a decisive third round by City Kickboxing’s Riddell to win a hard-fought decision. Dober had Riddell rocked early in round one, but Riddell’s superior technique and excellent counterpunching proved vital in the end. He also showed his wrestling and grappling chops on his way to the biggest victory of his career. Isn’t lightweight just awesome?
- Eryk Anders made sure he didn’t land anything illegal as he beat Darren Stewart in their rematch. Anders owned Stewart in the final round in what was otherwise an awful contest. Lauren Murphy narrowly kept her winning streak alive and extended to five with a grueling split decision over Joanne Calderwood. Murphy dominated round two on the ground, Calderwood outstruck Murphy in the third, so it all boiled down to how you scored the opening round. No robbery at all if you ask me and Murphy may get Valentina Shevchenko next.
- Movsar Evloev put on a grappling clinic on Hakeem Dawodu through two rounds, but Dawodu made one hell of a late rally to hurt the Russian a couple of times in the final round. Unfortunately for him, Evloev had one more takedown up his sleeve and that ended the comeback and also snapped his five-fight winning streak. Evloev remains unbeaten in his MMA career and will surely move up the featherweight ranks soon.
- Pannie Kianzad improved to four wins in a row with a unanimous decision over Alexis Davis, who was more competitive than the two 30-27s suggested. Ultimately Kianzad’s heavier hands and superior boxing came through as Davis surprisingly did not really attempt to grapple, and didn’t capitalize when Kianzad was struggling with calf kicks.
- Terrance McKinney fought just last week on an LFA card and in his short notice UFC debut he knocked out Matt Frevola in seven seconds. Fastest KO in UFC lightweight history but even crazier is after his 1-2 putdown of Matt, he injured himself jumping from the top of the cage. Hopefully his right knee is alright. You couldn’t make this up. What an emotional moment for McKinney and talk about making the most of your late call-up.
- Chase Hooper couldn’t get a comeback win this time. Steven Peterson was willing to grapple with Hooper and it worked out, as Peterson picked up the unanimous decision win over the 21-year-old prospect. Peterson missed weight on Friday though so there’s an asterisk on this performance.
- Fares Ziam was up two rounds against Luigi Vendramini, but Luigi really went for it in the final round and had Ziam hurt and briefly mounted. I don’t think he did enough to merit a 10-8 and two judges agreed, so Ziam got the majority decision but it was hardly an impressive performance. Respect to Luigi for actually fighting with urgency knowing he was down 2-0.
- Carlos Felipe and Jake Collier engaged in a good, better than expected fight for unranked, chunky heavyweights. It could’ve gone either way but Felipe got the nod by split decision. Collier really didn’t help himself with the quickness in which he gassed, but it’s not like Felipe clearly dominated the latter half of the contest.