UFC 263 didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. For a card stacked with top flight performers, title fights, and potential top contender bouts, the card produced little in the way of true highlight action. Brandon Moreno truly stole the show for the evening, submitting now-former flyweight king Deiveson Figueiredo in the third round. While Israel Adesanya cruised to victory over Marvin Vettori in the main event.
So, is it finally time for Robert Whittaker vs. Israel Adesanya 2? Is there any reason to do a Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno trilogy fight? And is anyone more excited for Leon Edwards as a potential title contender after nearly getting KO’d in an otherwise clear victory over Nate Diaz?
To answer those questions – and much much more – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights.
Adesanya’s next fight seems obvious. It seemed like the obvious fight before he even won this last one. The ‘Last Stylebender’ came out and easily out-maneuvered Vettori for five rounds, out-striking him on the way to a solid decision win. The ‘Italian Dream’ hung tough and tried to out-wrestle Adesanya but just couldn’t control the City Kickboxing talent on the mat or find enough sharp strikes standing to steal away any of the momentum. All that means it’s time for the fight we were intially expecting: Israel Adesanya vs. Robert Whittaker 2. The ‘Reaper’ may have lost the first fight in dramatic fashion, but since then he’s picked off Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and Kelvin Gastelum in dominating fashion. Give him another crack at gold before he cleans out the division. Adesanya vs. Whittaker is the fight to make no question about it.
Vettori stayed true to what got him to the title. He banked on his durability, hit some takedowns, and didn’t back away from Adesanya’s slicker striking attacks for a second. But it was all ultimately in the service of surviving the bout, rather than winning it. Adesanya kicked Vettori’s legs apart and landed most of the better punches from range. Still, as tough as Vettori is, I doubt he’s about to fade way out of the group of top contenders in the immediate future—he may, however, have to string together quite a few more wins to climb back to within reach of the belt. If Paulo Costa’s ever going to fight again, I’d love to see him take on the fighter out of Kings MMA. But, it seems much more likely that someone coming out of the Cannonier/Gastelum or Brunson/Till bouts will be the more obvious choice. I’ll say the loser of Brunson vs. Till should be next for Vettori. Seems like Brunson’s wrestling could be a fascinating test and Till vs. Vettori would probably at least have some entertaining trash talk.
If Figueiredo failed to show up, Moreno was firing on all cylinders. The ‘Assassin Baby’ led the dance on the feet behind his snappy jab, and took Figueiredo down hard every time the champ started to find his own rhythm. As was the case in the first bout, Moreno was a solid step ahead on the mat. But this time around, he turned his positional advantages into real solid threatening positions, eventually snatching up that RNC for the win. An absolutely electric title-securing victory for Mexico’s own, and one that should lead to a very obvious title bout. Two years ago, Moreno went toe to toe with Askar Askarov, for a three round war that ended in a split draw. Since then, Askarov is 3-0, and coming off a true top-contender’s win over Joseph Benavidez. Moreno is champ, Askarov is his next challenge, book the damn fight tomorrow.
A terrible showing from Deiveson Figueiredo – perhaps the worst fight of his career – and the absolute worst time to have it—against a version of Brandon Moreno that came incredibly well prepared. It was an absolutely electric performance from the new champion, but there’s no doubt that Figueiredo looked like he just wasn’t prepared. When things are clicking better, the Brazilian an incredibly powerful, dynamic force at flyweight, so there should be some great fights waiting for him. He’s already got wins over Alex Perez, Joseph Benavidez, and Alexandre Pantoja. But a bout against Brandon Royval would be an absolutely wild contest. Royval’s currently set to take on Pantoja, but with flyweight still as thin as it is, I’d say the UFC should make ‘Deus Da Guerra’ vs. ‘Raw Dog’ no matter what Royval’s result against Pantoja is. Win or lose, Royval vs. Figueiredo seems like the most thrilling flyweight fight the UFC can book. But a fight with Kai-Kara France would also serve in a pinch in case the Royval fight can’t be made.
Welp, if that was Edwards’ chance to prove that he’s the undeniable welterweight title contender, he didn’t really take advantage. On paper, he absolutely deserves the shot, but realistically, it feels a lot more like the UFC will probably go with that Covington vs. Usman 2 fight they’ve been talking about. Can Edwards wait for the winner of that matchup and still get his shot? He’s tried that before and it didn’t work out. I’m not sure he could make it work again this time around. In all fairness to him, if the UFC is gonna give Covington his rematch, then Edwards deserves the winner. More likely though, whoever comes out ahead between Gilbert Burns vs. Stephen Thompson will fight Edwards, and whoever comes out of that fight will be primed for a(nother) chance at Usman. Edwards deserves to try for the belt, but the tea leaves are telling me he’ll be fighting against the Burns/Thompson winner.
I wasn’t really planning on writing up a pick for the loser of this fight, but by Diaz standards he essentially won. Sure, he may have clearly lost 4 out of 5 rounds, but that last round was so brutally in his favor that we’re going to all be hearing about how he actually took this bout via ‘street rules’ for the next five years. It was, at least in that aspect, a quintissential Diaz performance. And, more than for Edwards, it’ll probably get fans much more engaged in Diaz’s next trip to the Octagon. That could be for a fight with Robbie Lawler, or maybe Carlos Condit. Could even be Vicente Luque or Geoff Neal. It’s always hard to guess just what kind of fight Diaz will actually take. Maybe he’ll even talk the UFC into that Masvidal rematch. I’ll argue for Nate Diaz vs. Geoff Neal, personally. It’s a highlight striking match, where Neal should have the obvious speed and power edge, but he’s such a head hunter that Diaz may be able to turn the tide on him a little faster than he did against Edwards. Diaz vs. Neal seems like a great way to get Nate right back into the kind of fight that gives him the best chances to entertain.
As expected, Muhammad simply looked like the much younger, more energetic fighter in the cage. Maia came out with a decent approximation of his classic top-shelf MMA game in round 1, but once Muhammad started shutting that down, he just didn’t have the energy to pursue the takedown with any vigor. The result was a controlled, consistent striking victory from ‘Remember the Name’ to keep him in the conversation as a top 15 talent. That could pit him against Santiago Ponzinibbio, Sean Brady, or a rematch with Vicente Luque. With Brady set to take on Kevin Lee, I’ll say Muhammad should go after Ponzinibbio. It’s another big name veteran opponent for the Roufusport fighter to make his case as a title contender against. And, given Ponzinibbio’s hard jab and big power, it should ask at least a few of the same questions that Luque and Neal asked of him in the past. Muhammad vs. Ponzinibbio seems like a great way to see if Muhammad can keep his success rolling or if the Argentinian’s comeback is for real.
A devastating war between Brad Riddell and Drew Dober was everything this card needed to kick it into gear before the PPV. Riddell had his regular slow start and Dober came out with power in round 1, almost putting him away. But the New Zealander dug down deep and found his footing to win the last two rounds with some fantastic form and big power. That puts Riddell right at the edges of top 15 competition. Could mean re-booking his planned bout against Gregor Gillespie, or the winner of Thiago Moises vs. Islam Makhachev, or maybe even someone like RDA. Obviously, I’m always going to be banging the drum for Riddell vs. Fiziev—it’s the lightweight war we all deserve. But at this point, I’ll say the UFC should re-book that Gillespie fight. It’d be a huge challenge for Riddell, but he’s put together the kinds of wins that say he absolutely deserves it. Brad Riddell vs. Gregor Gillespie is a true test of the Kiwi’s abilities.
I might have scored this fight a draw realistically, but if it was supposed to create a new flyweight title contender then it’s probably for the best that someone walk away with the victory. Murphy had a competitive first round, a dominant second round, and clearly lost the third. Picking up the 29-28 on a split doesn’t scream new champion, but anyone who has heard much of Murphy’s story on getting to this point in her career has to see it as a pretty big victory for her to get to a point where she would be in the title conversation. As long as Valentina is happy to fight anyone and everyone who climbs up to the top of the mountain to challenge her, then Murphy should absolutely get her shot. Lauren Murphy vs. Valentina Shevchenko seems like the fight Murphy has earned.
Not quite the pure domination Evloev had working for him, as he got stung badly a couple times in the third round. But, immediately afterward, he made it clear that this was still a bout to be contested entirely on his terms. If he didn’t want to strike with Dawodu, he didn’t have to. It may not have been an explosive finish, but now 5-0, he’s exactly where he needs to be to get bigger, more interesting fights. Bouts with the likes of Sodiq Yusuff, Ryan Hall, or Bryce Mitchell all sound like good ideas. Given Mitchell’s constantly creative, crafty grappling game, and at least reasonable striking arsenal, I think that’s gotta be the fight we see. Anything in the edges of the top 15 would be good, but a bout between Movsar Evloev and Bryce Mitchell would be some top shelf grappling madness.
A look at McKinney’s record suggested something like this could be possible. After all, there’s a bit of a phenomenon of short notice callups charging out fast against more veteran UFC talent who are, perhaps, a bit over-confident that they’re the better man in the cage. McKinney’s always been a violent early starter and he took full advantage tonight with a remarkable first round KO. That should line him up immediately for another thrilling action bout. Someone like Mike Davis, Jamie Mullarkey, or maybe Ottman Azaitar. Azaitar’s own penchant for immediate brutal violence makes that the car-crash fight that I have to see. Something where both men are likely to throw caution to the winds and be totally lost if the fight goes more than 5 minutes. Sounds like a good time. Terrence McKinney vs. Ottman Azaitar for more lightning fast KO action.
OTHER BOUTS: Demian Maia vs. Claudio Silva, Paul Craig vs. Nikita Krylov, Jamahal Hill vs. Modestas Bukauskas, Drew Dober vs. Bobby Green, Eryk Anders vs. Kevin Holland, Darren Stewart vs. Krzysztof Jotko, Joanne Calderwood vs. Alexa Grasso, Hakeem Dawodu vs. Gavin Tucker, Pannie Kianzad vs. Raquel Pennington, Alexis Davis vs. Jessy-Rose Clark, Matt Frevola vs. Khama Worthy, Steven Peterson vs. Minner/Elkins winner, Chase Hooper vs. Tristan Connelly, Fares Ziam vs. Mike Davis, Luigi Vendramini vs. Alex Munoz, Felipe vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Collier vs. Philipe Lins