A true summer blockbuster is upon us in the form of UFC 263 as two title fights top the card – in addition to the return of a legendary fan favourite.
With two rematches set to take place over UFC gold, both the flyweight and middleweight titles will be on the line as Deiveson Figuereido and Brandon Moreno run back their 2020 fight of the year contender while Israel Adesanya will return to 185 lbs against the hot-headed Marvin Vettori.
If two highly-anticipated championship bouts weren’t enough to whet the appetite, the first non-title, non-main event five-round fight will take place as Nate Diaz returns to the octagon to take on Birmingham’s own Leon Edwards.
Accompanying the excellent PPV portion of the fight card is also a brilliant undercard. With Drew Dober vs. Brad Riddell, a strawweight title eliminator between Joanne Calderwood and Lauren Murphy, and Movsar Evloev vs. Hakeem Dawodu, UFC 263 is a card that should be massively enjoyable from the top to the bottom.
Israel Adesanya (20-1) vs. Marvin Vettori (17-3-1)
Three years on from their first meeting and both men have improved drastically as mixed martial artists.
While both would find success at times in their close 2018 meeting, Adesanya has since closed gaps in his overall grappling while Vettori has improved his output as well as his own ground game.
With Adesanya losing his first MMA bout in his last outing, Vettori will likely try to take the positives of Jan Blachowicz’s light heavyweight title defence and look to ground ‘The Last Stylebender’ as much as possible.
While Vettori doesn’t possess the size advantage that Blachowicz capitalized upon to control on the mat and at distance, ‘The Italian Dream’ can use the same techniques which proved successful.
By chaining strikes into wrestling, a doubled-up jab before level changing would see Adesanya become vulnerable against Blachowicz as he looked to evade the punches through head movement alone.
Without Blachowicz’s size and power however, I do believe Adesanya will cope much better defensively through grips, underhooks, and his hip positioning.
From there, I’d expect Adesanya’s counter striking, ability to strike on the break, and his striking at range to be the biggest discrepancy between the two as well as the decisive factor in this contest.
Pick: Israel Adesanya
Deiveson Figueiredo (20-1-1) vs. Brandon Moreno (18-5-2)
Thanks to both fighter’s styles, I’d expect this bout to be another back-and-forth battle.
While their five-round classic from last year would end in a draw, a point deduction from the champion would prove to be the reasoning for the shared spoils.
With Figueiredo’s power taking on Moreno’s pace, the accuracy of Figueiredo’s shots are a huge part in why he is the 125 lbs king.
While I do think Moreno may look to mix in his wrestling more often this time around, Figueiredo’s quality of work both on the feet and in the scrambles make me side with ‘Deus da Guerra’.
Pick: Deiveson Figueiredo
Leon Edwards (18-3, 1 NC) vs. Nate Diaz (20-12)
I think the clinch work in this fight will be the most interesting part of this contest while everything else simply points to an Edwards victory.
Diaz has always shined when he can wear down on his opponents after his boxing has found a home but Edwards is the natural welterweight, is more well-rounded in his striking, and is in his prime as an active fighter.
Due to Diaz looking not great against Jorge Masvidal last time out, I’d expect Edwards to similarly find success through speed and athleticism.
Pick: Leon Edwards
Demian Maia (28-10) vs. Belal Muhammad (18-3, 1 NC)
Maia’s grappling is always a massive threat as he’s proved throughout his career but age does catch up with everyone.
I think with age Maia has started to flag, especially beyond round one, but his ability to grind away at his opponents makes him a huge problem early on.
If Muhammad can escape the grappling control that Maia can impose in the first stanza, his cardio and quality on the feet should see him start to peel away on the judges’ scorecards.
Pick: Belal Muhammad
Paul Craig (14-4-1) vs. Jamahal Hill (8-0, 1 NC)
Craig has a habit of picking up wins where he shouldn’t but he tends to get hit quite a bit and Jamahal Hill is someone who you do not want to be punched in the face by.
Craig’s grappling will likely be his best path to victory but I can’t see past Hill tagging the Scotsman on the feet.
Pick: Jamahal Hill
(Last Predictions: 3/5, Total: 53/97, 55% Success Rate)
(Success Rate: 2016: 61%, ’17: 60%, ’18: 58%, 19′: 57%, 20′: 67%)