Title fights in UFC 263 will highlight big night at Gila River Arena

Opponents Israel Adesanya of Nigeria (left) and Marvin Vettori of Italy face off during the UFC 263 ceremonial weigh-in at Gila River Arena. They highlight a big night of competition for Valley UFC fans. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

PHOENIX – Arizona’s first UFC promotion since 2019 is also the biggest in the state’s history.

A crowd of over 18,000 is expected at Gila River Arena for UFC 263 Saturday night to watch two championship bouts. The event marks the return of Nate Diaz, one of UFC’s most prominent fighters over the last decade, and features a packed card. Here is a closer look at how fighters on the main card match up:

Israel Adesanya vs. #3 Marvin Vettori

Over three years have passed since their split decision finish. These two meet again but this time it’s for the belt. If there was ever a time for “The Italian Dream” Vettori to fight Adesanya, now would be it as the champion is coming off his first career loss in March when he faced Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight championship.

Adesanya’s shortcomings were on display as Blachowicz secured three takedowns and controlled much of the later rounds, leading to a unanimous decision victory.

To succeed, Vettori will need to adopt a similar strategy of controlling the pace. Adesanya is coming off his first professional loss as an MMA fighter and has said this is personal for him, a chance to silence those who cast doubt over his split decision victory three years ago.

The Nigerian-born fighter is expected to do just that, using his reach advantage and superior striking to keep Vettori’s takedown attempts at bay while picking him apart in the standup, keeping Adesanya at the top of the middleweight division. Prediction: Adesanya defeats Vettori via 3rd round TKO.

Deiveson Figueiredo vs. No. 1 Brandon Moreno

“Figueiredo vs. Moreno 1” was one to remember as both fighters gave it their all on short notice. This fight should be no different, except for the length as it likely won’t go the distance this time.

Figueiredo will look to showcase his entire arsenal with a full training camp in the books and likely dictate the pace of this fight early by establishing his striking and ground, mixing them in seamlessly and spotlighting his standout jiu-jitsu skills.

Moreno isn’t expected to go down without a fight however, looking to go toe-to-toe with the champion once again, and as the fight progresses into the championship rounds, the fighter tagged “The Assassin Baby” is committed to the idea that it is anyone’s for the taking. Prediction: Figueiredo defeats Moreno via second round submission.

No. 3 Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz

Nate Diaz has been one of the UFC’s most polarizing figures over the past decade, last fighting against Jorge Masvidal in 2019 for the BMF title, where he suffered a third round TKO.

This fight doesn’t get any easier for Diaz as he is now tasked with stopping a hungry Edwards. It has been 18 months of hell for Edwards and his camp, as he has seen only one round of action since 2019, with his last fight ending in a no contest due to a horrific accidental eye poke of Belal Muhammad.

In spite of all this, Edwards has stayed atop the division as he is on an eight-fight unbeaten streak and sees a victory over Diaz as the last obstacle to challenge Kamaru Usman (the only person Edwards has lost to in seven years), and finally bring UFC gold back to Birmingham, England.

Edwards is expected to be relentless in his approach and will look to establish his striking early as he and Diaz are expected to trade shots for a majority of this fight. Diaz’s real chance at winning comes on the ground, as Edwards has struggled with his takedowns throughout his career. However, Edwards is slightly bigger than Diaz and will look to stop his takedown attempts at all costs.

This will come down to who has more energy in the later rounds. Prediction: Edwards defeats Diaz via unanimous decision.

No. 12 Muhammad vs No. 9 Demian Maia

Muhammad is back in the Octagon after the eye poke in March left him temporarily blind in one eye. He now faces off against the ageless wonder in Maia, who has had extended time off since his first round loss to Gilbert Burns in July of 2020.

Since then, Maia turned 43 but shows no signs of slowing down with possibly more fights on the table after this. But first he has to get past Muhammad, a fighter who showed briefly that he can hang with the top contenders in this division.

The Chicago-born fighter will look to put away one of the most respected fighters in UFC history by putting the pressure on the Brazilian early and often, starting with his striking and mixing in some takedowns when he sees an opening. The key for Maia will be to catch his opponent early and capitalize on any mistakes made on the ground as he can still submit anyone in the division, even in his advanced age. Prediction: Muhammad defeats Maia via unanimous decision.

No. 14 Paul Craig vs. No. 15 Jamahal Hill

Although this is the forgotten fight of the main card at UFC 263, it likely won’t be once it’s over. These two had an emotional fight week and exchanged words during media day with Hill bluntly asking his opponent if he was taking any illegal substances.

This bout presents both fighters with an opportunity to move up considerably in the light heavyweight decision as Hill remains undefeated in his professional MMA career, extending his record to 8-0-0 with a second round finish over Ovince Saint Preux in December, while Craig is coming off a similar result against Shogun Rua back in November.

These two likely will be swinging from the start of the first round as they are evenly matched in their fighting styles Prediction: Craig defeats Hill via first round TKO.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Amiliano Fragoso expects to graduate in December 2021 with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Fragoso, was broadcast reporter for the Phoenix News Bureau last fall, is working as a digital reporter this semester.