UFC 263 predictions: Will Adesanya rebound from 1st career loss?
Ahead of Saturday's UFC 263 in Glendale, Arizona, theScore's Nick Baldwin makes his picks for the top bouts.
Israel Adesanya (20-1)
Marvin Vettori (17-3-1)
On paper, this is a competitive fight. Adesanya and Vettori went to a split decision the first time they met in April 2018, and the rematch could look pretty similar.
Adesanya is rightfully favored, but Vettori has a clear path to victory on the ground. He scored two takedowns against Adesanya in the first fight, and if he utilizes that game plan more successfully Saturday, we could be looking at a new middleweight champion. Jan Blachowicz took Adesanya down several times in a March light heavyweight title bout, handing Adesanya his first professional defeat.
At the same time, though, part of me thinks we're in for a dominant Adesanya win. On the feet, this is his fight to lose by a mile. "The Last Stylebender" uses terrific movement and footwork to attack from different angles while maintaining a solid amount of power (as we saw against Paulo Costa). He's undoubtedly going to be too much for Vettori in that department.
Vettori is a very aggressive striker, and although pressure is how you can beat Adesanya on the feet, sometimes that works against fighters because it allows the champion to land countershots. Vettori ultimately needs to get this fight to the mat to win, and as someone roughly the same size as Adesanya (unlike Blachowicz, a natural light heavyweight), it's going to be a lot harder to do so. Expect Adesanya to pick apart the challenger in the stand-up department en route to either a late stoppage or decision victory.
The pick: Adesanya, unanimous decision
Deiveson Figueiredo (20-1-1)
Brandon Moreno (18-5-2)
The rematch between Figueiredo and Moreno is shaping up to be another barn burner.
The flyweights slugged it out in a "Fight of the Year" candidate in December, with the judges scoring the contest a majority draw. While Figueiredo and Moreno have both likely made some adjustments heading into their second clash, their styles against each other will always produce a compelling matchup.
That said, I expect the rematch to be a bit more decisive - in favor of the champion. Figueiredo headed into the UFC 256 main event against Moreno with an illness and stomach issues sent him to the hospital the day before the bout. It's almost a guarantee he wasn't 100% by the time the fight rolled around.
If Figueiredo went to a draw with Moreno while under the weather, then it's realistic to think he'll get the job done in Saturday's rematch.
Moreno can still make this competitive with his sharp boxing, and his durability will keep him in the fight regardless of how much punishment Figueiredo dishes out. But as the harder puncher, Figueiredo will land the more impactful shots, leaving no doubt about who the UFC's best flyweight is.
The pick: Figueiredo, unanimous decision
Leon Edwards (18-3, 1 NC)
Nate Diaz (20-12)
Edwards is on a different level than Diaz, which will be evident in this highly anticipated tilt.
That isn't a knock on Diaz, one of the most beloved fighters in UFC history. He's a tremendous grappler and as tough as they come. Diaz can definitely beat a handful of fighters in the 170-pound division despite being a natural lightweight. The problem is Edwards is one of the three best welterweights on the planet.
Edwards, who's riding an eight-fight unbeaten streak and hasn't lost since a meeting with current champion Kamaru Usman in 2015, is going to be better than Diaz everywhere. Edwards is one of the most technical and well-rounded fighters in the sport. He'll pick apart Diaz on the feet and can control his opponent without getting caught in a submission if the fight goes to the ground.
This bout being five rounds likely favors Diaz, known for outlasting opponents with his great cardiovascular endurance. But Edwards should have no issue with the extra time. The Brit is too smart to let Diaz overwhelm him down the stretch.
Don't expect Edwards to finish Diaz. The southpaw has only been stopped twice since 2006 and is one of the most durable fighters in the promotion. But do expect a lopsided decision in favor of "Rocky."
The pick: Edwards, unanimous decision
Demian Maia (28-10)
Belal Muhammad (18-3, 1 NC)
Two ranked welterweights will square off on the main card as Maia looks to bounce back against Muhammad after getting knocked out by Gilbert Burns in March 2020.
I'm tempted to pick Maia since he continues to defy the odds at the age of 43, but I can't quite do it. The devastating loss to Burns, which snapped his three-fight winning streak, might have been a sign of what's to come - and that Maia is finally done. Muhammad, who's won his last five fights, is a talented fighter and should have what it takes Saturday to earn the most notable victory of his career.
Maia can always threaten opponents with his outstanding jiu-jitsu, but Muhammad should have the wrestling chops and distance management to keep this one standing for the most part. As long as Muhammad stays upright, he'll outpoint the Brazilian veteran and potentially get a finish.
The pick: Muhammad, second-round TKO