UFC 263 preview

Expect the unexpected. 

This has been the case for the UFC since they’ve returned to full capacity during their major, pay-per-view events. Saturday night will likely continue the trend in front of a sold-out Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona for UFC 263. 

The card features another doubleheader of title fights headlined by a heated rematch for the middleweight championship between current belt holder Israel Adesanya and rising contender Marvin Vettori. 

Odds via William-Hill Sportsbook

UFC Middleweight Championship: (c)Israel Adesanya(-260) vs. Marvin Vettori 2(+210)

The Nigerian and New Zealander was served a slice of humble pie in March as he tried stepping up to light-heavyweight to become the next double champion in the UFC. Adesanya failed in his attempt and Jan Blachowicz proved too difficult of a task for the much smaller “Stylebender.” 

Only three months later, Adesanya returns to 185 pounds and what is going overlooked is how his body reacts to cutting weight for the fight. Granted, he’s done this cut multiple times, but the UFC has rarely seen a fighter jump and go back down in such a dramatic gap in weight in this little time and it could play a role against a guy who loves to stay in his opponents’ faces. 

Vettori was close to stunning the once hyped-up prospect in April 2018 at the same venue where the two fought to a split decision. They were able to land a similar number of strikes, but Adesanya was the more-proficient man on the feet. 

If Vettori wants to come out on the other side of a decision (should it go that far), then he’s going to gain that advantage by attacking the legs of Adesanya to neutralize his speed and lateral movement. Adesanya likes to stay on the outside and put on a show from there, but Vettori will try to make it ugly and suffocate Adesanya. He needs to stay in his face as it is his only path to victory. He needs to be more precise and assertive in his takedowns, but not to the point of desperation. Vettori has the tools to give Adesanya many feints to set up his offense, but he has to be smart. 

The fight will be a lot closer than many expect. Adesanya’s demeanor after his first-career loss in March wasn’t what you want from a competitor, but he seems to be fired up for this one. I believe Adesanya holds on to the belt. 

Prediction: Adesanya via decision

UFC Flyweight Championship: (c)Deiveson Figueiredo(-190) vs. Brandon Moreno(+160) 2

No single title fight has ever been more intense than the first meeting between the two 125-pounders last December. 

The Brazilian and the Mexican went toe-to-toe for five rounds and neither gave way. The two combatants threw over 500 strikes combined with each landing over 50%.  

Expect the same going into Saturday night. Not much should change between the fighters as both were quite successful in their execution six months ago. The only difference is who is going to be the one to close the show. 

Figueiredo said that he wants the first-round knockout. He has the power advantage over Moreno and his ground game is quite nasty as we’ve seen against Joseph Benavidez. 

It’s a fight of mere inches. One slip up will lead to someone’s lights going out. Many want to see Moreno earn the belt, but Figueiredo is the one with the power. 

Prediction: Figueiredo via TKO

Leon Edwards(-550) vs. Nate Diaz(+400)

For the first time since 2019, Stockton, California’s finest returns to the Octagon for a rare five-round, non-main event, non-title fight Saturday night. 

The UFC is giving the fans what they want as two high-cardio fighters will stand straight-up and throw down. 

There’s a lot to lose for the Englishman in Edwards. After winning eight in a row, he suffered a setback in March after poking the eye of Belal Muhammad that led to a no contest. Edwards is on the path for a welterweight title fight, but he cannot overlook the always-game Diaz. 

The key for Edwards is to not fall into Diaz’s mind games. Diaz likes to taunt his opponents and will even slap them to get them mad. If Edwards falls for the trap, Diaz can take advantage and start teeing off similar to how his fight with Anthony Pettis went in 2019. 

Diaz is going to get his, but Edwards should remain mentally strong and push Diaz to the end. Diaz is a fun fighter to watch, but that 20-12 record will show Saturday evening. 

Prediction: Edwards via decision

Demian Maia(+180) vs. Belal Muhammad(-220)

It’s been over a year since Maia has stepped foot in the Octagon and his last was a brutal TKO loss at the hands of Gilbert Burns. While not as swift as Burns, Muhammad possesses great striking skills on top of a quality ground game to keep Maia from putting on a jiu-jitsu teaching session. 

Muhammad will also enter Saturday night with an edge following the eye poke that ended a run up the welterweight ranks for the time being. 

He’s won eight of his last nine and UFC 263 could offer the marquee victory Muhammad needs to enter contendership. 

Prediction: Muhammad via decision

Paul Craig(+220) vs. Jamahal Hill(-270)

There may not be a better start to a pay-per-view than this light-heavyweight tilt. 

The two had the best stare down at the ceremonial weigh-in Friday afternoon and are ready to go to war to get the crowd going. 

Craig has won three of his last four bouts with a draw in-between. Each victory came via finish with two submissions and one TKO. 

After showing his promise on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019, Hill is living up to his potential with three-consecutive wins. Yes, I am counting the win over Klidson Abreu even though it was unjustifiably ruled a no-contest after Hill tested positive for…marijuana….

Expect a back-and-forth striking fare as both men look to stamp themselves in the light-heavyweight division and send a message to the champion in Blachowicz. 

Prediction: Hill via KO

There’s great fighters and fights across the entire preliminary card as well. 

Pannie Kianzad has won three in a row after dropping her UFC debut. She will seek win No. 4 against longtime veteran Alexis Davis in the featured early prelim. 

Drew Dober and Brad Riddell could prove to be a Fight of the Night contender as Dober looks to bounce back from a difficult loss to Islam Makhachev in March. 

Full, brute strength also fills the preliminary card as middleweights Eryk Anders and Darren Stewart will throw down. 

After a quality performance over Jessica Eye in January, Joanne Calderwood will look to end a four-fight winning streak for Lauren Murphy, who wants to step into the No. 1 title contender spot in the flyweight division. 

Other fighters to keep tabs on are Hakeem Dawodu, Matt Frevola, Terrance McKinney and Chase Hooper. 

Full card predictions:

Adesanya via decision

Figueiredo via TKO

Edwards via decision

Muhammad via decision

Hill via KO

Dober via TKO

Stewart via KO

Calderwood via submission

Dawodu via decision

Kianzad via decision

McKinney via TKO

Hooper via decision

Vendramini via TKO

Felipe via TKO

The full card will begin at 6:00 p.m. EST on ESPN+ or UFC Fight Pass with the televised prelims on ESPN (8:00 p.m. EST) and the main card on ESPN+ PPV at 10:00 p.m. EST.

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