UFC 263: Adesanya vs. Vettori – Unofficial Awards
Nate Diaz in between rounds of his UFC 263 contest with Leon Edwards.
Get a unique rundown of the events of UFC 263 as Dayne Fox awards the best and worst happenings of the event.
UFC 263 is a mixed bag. There was a lack of drama in the main event between Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori, but Brandon Moreno’s upset of Deiveson Figueiredo and Nate Diaz’s near comeback made up for that. There was a record 11 decisions for a UFC event, but the finishes we did see featured a lightning quick seven second contest and a jaw-dropping dislocated arm. In the end, I walked away satisfied with the results of UFC 263, my need for violence and entertainment satiated. As always, there is more to the event than the top storylines. Though I’ll touch on those, here’s some of the other lesser known developments of UFC 263.
Biggest Jump in Stock: There were a LOT of contenders for this spot and I know I’m going to have plenty of people disagreeing with my choice, but I’m going with Brandon Moreno. There were very few who were picking the former bottom seed on TUF to upend the defending flyweight champion, despite fighting Figueiredo to a draw just six months ago. Not only did Moreno secure the victory, he became the first to finish off the God of War in a dominant performance that featured several other moments that featured near finishes. At 27, Moreno still appears to be improving. He could be champion for a very long time.
Biggest Fall in Stock: This spot is hard to pin down. For some, the obvious choice is Figueiredo given he was a pretty heavy favorite and was upended, but his stock couldn’t have fallen that far if people are talking about a trilogy fight with Moreno. Others might point to Vettori being unable to win a round off Adesanya in the main event, but many expected that type of domination from the champ. Hakeem Dawodu was another consideration after being dominated in the first two rounds in what was supposed to be a competitive scrap with Movsar Evloev, but he somewhat redeemed himself with a strong third. Thus, I’ll go with Matt Frevola. The DWCS veteran dropped his second fight in a row, lasting a total of seven seconds this time around. There are some circumstances around both losses that can help mitigate the impact, but most fans don’t care enough about someone at Frevola’s level to dig into that. They just see two losses, one of them in seven seconds.
Best Newcomer: There was only one newcomer to the card, but Terrence McKinney did a hell of a job making the most of his UFC debut. In a span of seven seconds, he secured both his win bonus and a Performance Bonus, butting away a traditionally tough Frevola with a fast one-two to open the contest. McKinney has been a prospect on the UFC radar for a long time. This performance proved why that has been the case. Throw in he did it on four days notice and it makes the win that much more impressive.
Start Typing a Resume: To give an idea of how strong this card was, there doesn’t appear to be anyone who is going to be handed walking papers. Frevola stands an outside chance of being let go, but I think his aggressive style will give him some leniency with Uncle Dana. However, it’s possible we’ve seen the last of Demian Maia as there was considerable talk prior to the event of this being the 43-year old grappling ace’s final fight of his career. Given the bore his fight with Belal Muhammad turned out to be, I could see Maia pushing for a final fight against an opponent who is more willing to engage on the mat with him, allowing the legend to go out doing what everyone remembers him for. However, that’s not a guarantee and I could see that being the end of the line for Maia.
Saved Their Job(s): Like I indicated in the last award, nobody appeared to be in a bad enough spot that a win was needed to keep their job. Thus, I don’t think anyone really saved their job.
Biggest WOW Moment: There is something magical about Nate Diaz at this stage, a unique blend of attitude and skills that can never be replicated. At a point when most fighters would have been mentally broken – losing the first 24 minutes of a five round fight – found a way to wobble Leon Edwards when everything else Diaz had previously landed seemed to bounce right off the Englishman. Most would agree Diaz didn’t pursue the finish aggressively enough once hurt Edwards, but he came thisclose to being the first to put away Edwards, that minute being as tense of a minute as I’ve ever watched. The weird thing was Diaz’s odd decision making in pursuit of the finish – clowning Edwards after he hurt him, taking his time to stalk him, engaging in the clinch at one point – added to the drama of the moment.
Never Seen That Before: I’ve seen fighters injure themselves in post-fight celebrations – Johnny Walker’s botched worm celebration comes to mind – but never saw one injure themselves after climbing on the fence and jumping off, at least in the UFC. I knew it was coming eventually and McKinney finally brought my prediction into reality. Hopefully, the injury doesn’t overshadow his incredible performance and serves a cautionary tale.
Never Seen That Before II: Broken arms are fairly common in the UFC. The likes of Rodrigo Nogueira, Jacare Souza, and Tim Sylvia suffered broken arms in the cage as the result of a submission. All of them were champions at a high level at some point, so there’s no shame in it. However, unlike all the others I’ve listed, the referee didn’t stop the contest once Paul Craig mangled Jamahal Hill, allowing Hill’s arm to flop around while Craig landed punches with Hill still in Craig’s triangle. I’ve seen dangling arms in this sport, but never one flopping and flailing the way Hill’s did. To say thousands were disturbed by the sight would be an understatement.
Never Seen That Before III: A big part of what made Diaz’s comeback so awesome was the level of dominance Edwards was exercising. I’ll admit that I’m grasping at straws a bit as Anderson Silva submitted Chael Sonnen in one of the most epic comebacks in the history of the sport. However, Silva nabbed that submission after being dominated for 23 minutes… and Edwards went 24 minutes. Stupid, I know – and Silva completed the comeback – but that makes Diaz’s attempted comeback literally a last-minute comeback.
Cure For Insomnia: Easy choice: Muhammad’s win over Maia. I don’t want to rip on Muhammad as he fought the most intelligent fight he possibly could to secure a win over Maia, but it was also a hard fight to watch as most of the fight consisted of Muhammad fighting off Maia’s repeated takedown attempts. Given Maia isn’t a striker, I can’t fault him for his attempts to go the mat. The outcome was understandable, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t boring.
Best/Worst Referee Call: There was only one choice here and I’ve already touched on it: Al Guinee allowing Hill to continue fighting despite his dislocated elbow. He has refereed UFC events in the Phoenix area before, but I doubt he ever will again as he’s been ripped up and down the MMA community for his egregious error. It’s one thing to have Uncle Dana rip on a referee – a practice he’s well known for – but it’s another when the ultimate authority of all things MMA, Big John McCarthy, does so. Perhaps Hill deserves some blame for not tapping when he was compromised beyond an ability to continue, but these are people who accept money to get punched in the head: they obviously need to be protected from themselves. Guinee didn’t do that.
Best Callout: While I give plenty of credit to Adesanya for calling out Robert Whittaker – it was the right thing to do – it was also the obvious thing to do. There was no other option for Adesanya that makes sense. Thus, the best callout – once again, there weren’t many of them – goes to Pannie Kianzad asking for Raquel Pennington next. Pennington has had an up-and-down UFC career, but has firmly established herself as a consistent figure in the top ten of the shallow women’s bantamweight division. Given Kianzad has won four in a row, so why not throw her a bone given she isn’t asking for anything unrealistic?
Theme of the Night: Given the event set the record for most decisions in a single event, it’s obvious the theme was decisions. Fortunately, there were no egregious errors by the judges that resulted in the wrong decision. How two judges gave Kianzad a 30-27 score was a real head scratcher and there were a couple of contests that could have rightfully gone either way, but that’s about it. Not a bad night in the least given the record amount of decisions.
Theme of the Night II: Aside from the decisions, the other theme was comebacks-that-weren’t. Diaz and Dawodu weren’t the only ones who put a scare into their opponents in the final round after being dominated in all the previous rounds. Luigi Vendramini did the same thing against Fares Ziam, finally opting to go for the kill and came thisclose to succeeding.
Ignored Title Eliminator: Typically, a title eliminator is one of the most talked about contests on just about any card. That wasn’t the case for Murphy’s win over Calderwood. Part of that may be due to the lack of clarity on her win as an equally strong case could be made that Calderwood won, but it’s not like there haven’t been plenty of title eliminator contests in the past that were squeakers. It isn’t be forgotten because it was a boring contest either as it was actually a reasonably fun scrap. No, it’s because it happened so early in the event – it was the second of the televised prelims – that most people had already pushed it out of their memories given the later drama of the evening.. And the UFC can’t figure out why there’s a lack of excitement around Valentina Shevchenko’s title defenses….