UFC 263 predictions

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Every now and then the UFC is blessed with a rematch that books itself. This Saturday at UFC 263, they got two of them.

After his breakout 2018 campaign in which he went 4-0 to start his UFC career, Israel Adesanya competed against a middleweight murderer’s row in his next five fights: Anderson Silva, Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero, and Paulo Costa. He then jumped up to 205 where he fell short in a bid to claim Jan Blachowicz’s light heavyweight title, but now he returns to the division in which he’s never lost and he has a worthy contender waiting for him.

With Whittaker taking some well-deserved time off, the next man in line had to step up and that just so happens to be Marvin Vettori, a former Adesanya foe who hasn’t lost since his first meeting with “The Last Stylebender.” Vettori dropped a split decision to Adesanya three years ago, but never took his eyes off of the prize as he put together a five-fight win streak to keep himself in the championship conversation. Now he has a chance to make the biggest statement of his life.

The flyweight championship bout in the co-main event has been in the works since Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno both had their hands raised at UFC 256 in December. Figueiredo and Moreno had already made history with the quickest turnaround for a UFC title fight after competing on the same card just three weeks prior, and then they messed around and put on the best flyweight fight of all time. All it was missing was a clear victor.

When Figueiredo ran through Joseph Benavidez and Alex Perez, it looked like the beginning of a long and spectacular reign, but the affable Moreno could end up being his kryptonite. Like Vettori, Moreno has battled back from adversity—including briefly being cut by the UFC—to emerge as a legitimate contender. He’s already proven he can survive five rounds with “Deus da Guerra,” now it’s just a matter of winning them.

Oh, and Nate Diaz is also back on Saturday, facing Leon Edwards in the first-ever five-round UFC fight that is not a main event nor a title fight. So this show has that going for it.

In other main card action, Brazilian legend Demian Maia makes his 33rd UFC appearance in a welterweight bout against Belal Muhammad, and light heavyweights Paul Craig and Jamahal Hill put their win streaks on the line in the opener.

What: UFC 263

Where: Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

When: Saturday, June 12. The five-fight early prelims begin on ESPN and ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET. A four-fight preliminary card follows at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+. The five-fight pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available to watch through ESPN+.

Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori

Not only do I like Israel Adesanya’s chances of beating Marvin Vettori again, I think he finds a finish this time.

Don’t get me wrong, both fighters have improved since their first encounter, but I still don’t think Vettori’s skills have caught up to Adesanya’s. Adesanya was clearly the better striker and his takedown defense has only improved since then. Even getting close enough for a proper takedown attempt is going to be difficult for Vettori. Keep in mind that Adesanya’s recent loss to Jan Blachowicz was only partly due to wrestling, Blachowicz was beating him on the feet too.

So for Vettori to have a chance, he’ll have to show more in the standup. Wrestling gives him a chance for the upset, but it won’t be enough to win it. If anything, I could see him scoring a takedown early and possibly stealing the first round before Adesanya gets the lasers targeted on Vettori and starts to pick him apart. Look for Adesanya to fight with even more fire after taking the first loss of his MMA career.

Good for Vettori for earning this rematch, but I don’t think he makes it past the second round.

Pick: Adesanya

Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno

Guess what? I’m predicting a successful title defense and a finish here too.

Brandon Moreno is absolute nails, so when he says he’s going to come forward and be more aggressive in his second fight with Deiveson Figueiredo, I believe him. I just don’t know if that’s wise. Remember, Jorge Masvidal was confident that he could take the punches of Kamaru Usman after their uneventful first fight and look what happened to him in that rematch. While Moreno is showing Figueiredo a lot more respect as far as the champ’s power goes, the fact that he’s actually willing to wade further into the wood chipper is cause for concern.

Realistically, Figueiredo would have won the first fight had he not cost himself a point with a third-round groin stroke (though one could argue that the debilitating effects of that groin stroke also affected Moreno’s performance from thereon out). He’s still the flyweight division’s best finisher, probably its hardest puncher, and also a threat on the ground even when it comes to dealing with a whirling dervish like Moreno. We saw maybe the best version yet of Moreno at UFC 256—which he dubbed “Brandon Moreno 2.0”—and it could take version 3.0 to finally take Figueiredo down.

The good news is that I expect this to be just as exciting an encounter as the first time, only with Figueiredo scoring a finish in the championship rounds.

Pick: Figueiredo

Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz

It’s not crazy to pick Nate Diaz in this one. It’s unwise, but it’s not crazy.

Here’s how Diaz can win it: 1) He’s Nate Diaz, are you seriously counting him out of any fight? 2) He has the gas tank to outlast anyone and let’s not forget that this is five-round fight. 3) When Diaz drags you into a straight scrap, all bets are off.

My brain refuses to let me pick against Leon Edwards, as boring as that sounds. Technically, he’s a better striker than Diaz, and Diaz has always had problems stopping takedowns at 170 pounds. He has a highly effective guard so he’s happy to fight off of his back, but you don’t win decisions like that against someone as tactically sound as Edwards.

This has to become a dogfight for Diaz to have a chance and that’s a big if. I just don’t see him pushing Edwards far enough outside of his comfort zone for Edwards to deviate from his game plan. He’ll pepper Diaz from distance, clinch in close, put him on his back, lather, rinse, and repeat.

Edwards by decision.

Pick: Edwards

Demian Maia vs. Belal Muhammad

Someone is about to get Maia’d.

Last fight or not, I’m not writing Demian Maia off yet. Can’t do it. At 43, he’s still one of the most freakishly strong guys at 170 pounds and we all know if he gets a hold of Belal Muhammad, it’s either going to lead to a submission or a 10-9 round. The question is whether Muhammad has the wrestling and cardio to follow the blueprint laid out by Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington, and Tyron Woodley.

He can definitely keep up the pace for three rounds and if he foils Maia’s takedowns early it’s going to be a long night for the two-time UFC title challenger. As sturdy as Maia is, asking him to go three fast-paced rounds with a fighter ten years his junior is too much. If this goes to a decision, Maia has to get takedowns early and get ahead on the cards because it’s Muhammad who will finish strong in the third.

Muhammad has never been submitted, but he’s never faced anyone with the jiu-jitsu of Maia either. The old master still has at least one more classic submission victory in him.

Pick: Maia

Paul Craig vs. Jamahal Hill

It’s about time I start paying attention to what Jamahal Hill can do.

In the past, I’ve picked against Hill due to his inexperience despite him having obvious gifts that have had many prognosticators (except this genius) predicting he’s a future UFC title challenger. Hill is long and rangy, knows how to use his size well, and has excellent hand speed for a 205er. He is raw, but the talent has translate into finishes inside the octagon.

Paul Craig is the right test for Hill at this stage of his career. “Bearjew” can take a licking and fire right back and he’s shown that he’s more than just a last-second comeback artist. He has a dangerous submission game and has developed his standup as he’s moved up the rankings. Plan A and Plan B should be to get this one to the ground though.

I’d still like to see Craig get out of the gates faster because he’s had issues when having to deal with an athleticism gap, which is what he’s facing here. Hill has great finishing instincts and should pounce on Craig early and end this one in the first.

Pick: Hill

Preliminaries

Drew Dober def. Brad Riddell

Darren Stewart def. Eryk Anders

Joanne Calderwood def. Lauren Murphy

Movsar Evloev def. Hakeem Dawodu

Alexis Davis def. Pannie Kianzad

Terrance McKinney def. Matt Frevola

Chase Hooper def. Steven Peterson

Fares Ziam def. Luigi Vendramini

Carlos Felipe def. Jake Collier

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