The Ultimate Fighter
ISRAEL ADESANYA VS. MARVIN VETTORI
Israel Adesanya returns to the 185-pound weight class to defend his middleweight title against hard-charging Italian challenger Marvin Vettori in the highly intriguing main event of UFC 263.
Adesanya began his year by testing himself up a division, coming up short in his quest to claim the light heavyweight championship at UFC 259 and suffering the first loss of his mixed martial arts career to Jan Blachowicz in the process. Now returning to the division he’s dominated since arriving in the UFC a little over four years ago, the 31-year-old champion will look to re-affirm his position as ruler of the middleweight ranks by collecting a third successful title defense and second victory over Vettori on Saturday.
Five fights into his UFC career, the 27-year-old challenger was 2-2-1 and coming off a loss to Adesanya in a competitive contest where Vettori improved as the fight went on. Since then, “The Italian Dream” has rattled off five straight victories, including back-to-back unanimous decision victories in five-round main event fights where the final outcome was never in doubt.
This such an intriguing fight because for the first time in his UFC career, Adesanya failed to rise to the occasion, erasing his aura of invincibility and creating room for critics and challengers to wonder aloud if he’s primed to be knocked from the middleweight throne. Additionally, Vettori has remained steadfast in his belief that he won the first fight and is the man to unseat “The Last Stylebender,” and while it may have seemed far-fetched immediately following their initial encounter, what he’s done as of late makes it seem far more plausible.
No matter how this shakes out, it’s going to be entertaining and set the course for the second half of the year in the middleweight division, so sit back and enjoy on Saturday night.
Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori Full Interview | UFC 263: Adesanya vs Vettori 2
Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori Full Interview | UFC 263: Adesanya vs Vettori 2
DEIVESON FIGUEIREDO VS. BRANDON MORENO
After lighting the UFC APEX on fire last December in a clash that landed on the Fight of the Year podium, Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno are back to do it again, with the flyweight title once again hanging in the balance.
Everything about their first meeting at UFC 256 is wild to think about in hindsight, as the bout came together three weeks earlier, when each man made quick work of their respective opponents at UFC 255. Then, midway through a competitive, wildly entertaining battle, Figueiredo was hit with a point deduction in the third round for an illegal strike, which became the determining factor in the fight resulting in a draw, setting up this rematch.
Now after having time to recover, reset, and run themselves through a full training camp, these two standouts will do it again in Saturday’s co-main event.
Figueiredo topped a lot of Fighter of the Year lists in 2020 after earning three wins and a draw, including twin finishes of Joseph Benavidez and a quick submission win over Alex Perez in his initial title defense. The fast and powerful Brazilian has been on fire since suffering the lone loss of his career in early 2019 and will look to continue his reign by putting away Moreno this weekend.
It’s been a wild five-year run for Moreno, who debuted in the UFC shortly after losing his tournament bout on Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter, and has gone 3-0-2 in five fights since returning to the promotion in the fall of 2019. Having gained a first-hand understanding of what the champion brings to the table, it will be interesting to see if the challenger can complete his climb to the top of the flyweight division on Saturday night.
LEON EDWARDS VS. NATE DIAZ
For the first time in UFC history, a non-title fight stationed outside of the main event will be contested over five rounds, as streaking welterweight Leon Edwards looks to secure the biggest win of his career in a clash with returning cult hero Nate Diaz in the middle of Saturday’s pay-per-view main card.
It’s been a challenging 23 months for Edwards, who was sidelined throughout 2020 due to myriad COVID-19-related cancellations and postponements, and then had his March clash with Belal Muhammad halted just 18 seconds into the second round when Muhammad was rendered unable to continue due to an inadvertent eye poke.
The Birmingham native had won eight straight prior to collecting a no contest verdict in March, and looked sharp in his first five minutes of action since beating Rafael Dos Anjos on July 20, 2019. He’s already on the short list of potential title challengers in the welterweight division, and a dominant effort here could make him the unquestioned top contender going forward.
RELATED: The One And Only Nate Diaz
The 36-year-old Diaz is returning for the first time since his BMF title fight with Jorge Masvidal at UFC 244 in New York City, where a gnarly cut over his eye halted the proceedings at the end of the third round. Stockton’s favorite son is the ultimate wild card because his high-volume approach and bottomless gas tank can make him a nightmare matchup for anyone, even a streaking standout like Edwards.
Will “Rocky” cement his place as the top contender in the welterweight ranks or is Diaz going to shake things up again?
DEMIAN MAIA VS. BELAL MUHAMMAD
This is a clash of welterweights at different stages of their respective careers, each looking to get back into the win column as Brazilian veteran Demian Maia squares off with aspiring contender Belal Muhammad.
After a nasty three-fight stretch that saw him lose consecutive decisions to Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, and Kamaru Usman, Maia rattled off three straight victories to show he still had a little something left in the tank heading into last year. He was quickly stopped by future title challenger Gilbert Burns last March, and returns here looking to put one more tick in the win column as he continues inching closer to calling it a career.
Entering the year as one of the top unheralded talents on the roster, Muhammad jumped from a dominant victory over Dhiego Lima in February into a chance to replace Khamzat Chimaev opposite Edwards a month later, catapulting himself into the spotlight in the process. Though things ended abruptly, painfully, and inconclusively, the increased attention made more folks realize how talented Muhammad is as a fighter and created an opportunity for the charismatic Chicago native to secure the kind of higher profile pairings that had previously been eluding his grasp.
As with all Maia engagements, this one will likely come down to whether the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace can ensnare Muhammad and force him to defend for long stretches. If the veteran can’t get his hands on the Remember the Show host, he could be in for a long, exhausting night at the office, as few fighters have figured out how to weaponize the pace and conditioning the way Muhammad does inside the Octagon.
PAUL CRAIG VS. JAMAHAL HILL
Light heavyweights with bad blood between them kick off the main card as Paul Craig and Jamahal Hill will finally get the chance to settle their differences on Saturday night.
Initially scheduled to face off in early March, the bout was pushed back after Hill tested positive for COVID-19 and the two have continued bumping gums with one another on social media for that entire time.
After struggling with inconsistency early in his UFC career, Craig arrives in Glendale on a four-fight unbeaten streak, having earned three stoppage victories and one draw during that time. The Scottish submission ace is a menace off his back, has a pair of late-stage comeback wins that speak to his tenacity and heart, and continues to improve his striking, all of which combines to make him an intriguing figure in the 205-pound weight class.
UFC 263 FREE FIGHTS: Deiveson Figueiredo vs Joseph Benavidez 2 | Nate Diaz vs Anthony Pettis | Israel Adesanya vs Marvin Vettori 1 | Leon Edwards vs Donald Cerrone | Israel Adesanya vs Kelvin Gastelum | Deiveson Figueiredo vs Brandon Moreno 1
The 30-year-old Hill has looked outstanding since graduating to the UFC from the Contender Series in the summer of 2019. “Sweet Dreams” scored two wins and a no contest result in three starts last year, capped by a second-round finish of divisional stalwart Ovince Saint Preux.
It’s a new era in the light heavyweight division and the winner of this clash between Top 15 talents should take a step forward in the second half of the year and reach that point where each subsequent victory produces the next “biggest fight of my career” each time out.
Leon Edwards vs Nate Diaz Preview | UFC 263
Leon Edwards vs Nate Diaz Preview | UFC 263
DREW DOBER VS. BRAD RIDDELL
The prelims wrap with a banger in the lightweight division between Drew Dober and Brad Riddell.
Dober earned consecutive stoppage wins and Performance of the Night bonuses in 2020 to push his winning streak to three and crack the Top 15. That led to a showdown with Islam Makhachev at UFC 259 and though he fought valiantly, the Elevation Fight Team member landed on the wrong side of a submission loss, sending him into this one looking for a return to the win column.
Unbeaten in three UFC appearances and riding a six-fight winning streak overall, Riddell was initially slated to face Gregor Gillespie in March, but the bout was scrapped when “Quake” was part of the City Kickboxing contingent sidelined by COVID-19 protocols ahead of the event. Sound everywhere and still developing as a mixed martial artist, the 29-year-old from Christchurch, New Zealand could emerge as a sneaky dark horse in the division, especially if he’s able to register a victory over Dober this weekend.
ERYK ANDERS VS. DARREN STEWART
The March 13 Fight Night event at the UFC APEX featured not one, but two no contest results, and while Edwards and Muhammad are each competing this weekend against different opponents, Eryk Anders and Darren Stewart are running it back.
Their initial encounter didn’t even last a full round, but it was a wild affair, with Stewart starting hot, Anders rallying back, and the fight being waved off right when the former Alabama linebacker appeared poised to put away “The Dentist” after hitting the downed Brit with an illegal knee. With unfinished business to attend to, they’re ready to share the Octagon together again on Saturday.
Anders dropped his lone appearance of 2020, which halted a two-fight run of success, while Stewart competed three times, losing to Bartosz Fabinski in a bout under the Cage Warriors banner before submitting Maki Pitolo and dropping a split decision to Kevin Holland.
Both men need a victory to get things moving in the right direction, and between the chaotic start to their initial meeting and the unsatisfying way it ended, it’s a good bet that this one is a Fight of the Night contender no matter how long it lasts or who comes out on top.
LAUREN MURPHY VS. JOANNE CALDERWOOD
It’s a meeting between flyweight contenders looking to stamp themselves as the next title challenger in the 125-pound weight class as Lauren Murphy squares off with Joanne Calderwood in a cracking preliminary card contest this weekend.
After reaching the UFC with an 8-0 record, a trio of close decision losses left Murphy with a 9-3 record when she opted to shift to flyweight and join the cast on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter. She was bounced from the competition in the opening round by Nicco Montano, but secured a victory over Barb Honchak at the finale, and has rattled off four straight victories heading into this title eliminator tilt on Saturday.
Calderwood was in a position to challenge for the title heading into last summer, but when champion Valentina Shevchenko was forced to push back the fight, the Scottish veteran opted to roll the dice and compete, suffering a first-round submission loss to Jennifer Maia on August 1. Earlier this year, Calderwood returned to action and delivered her most impressive UFC performance to date, thoroughly out-hustling Jessica Eye to put herself right back in the thick of the championship chase in the flyweight division.
While there are no guarantees that the winner will earn a shot at Shevchenko and the flyweight title, whoever emerges victories will move to the head of the list of possible contenders and bring themselves one step closer to challenging for championship gold.
MOVSAR EVLOEV VS. HAKEEM DAWODU
Ultra-talented featherweights looking to make headway in a division collide in the first televised prelim of the night, as Movsar Evloev shares the Octagon with “Mean” Hakeem Dawodu in what is a critical matchup for both men.
Undefeated in 14 starts, the last four coming under the UFC banner, the 27-year-old Evloev is part of the next generation of emerging young talents who are skilled in all facets of the sport and dripping with potential. Last time out, he navigated some dicey moments to secure a split decision win over Nik Lentz, and while he’s yet to earn a finish inside the Octagon, it feels like only a matter of time before Evloev puts everything together and delivers the type of eye-catching performance that elevates him to the fringes of contention.
What stands out the most about Dawodu — other than his perma-scowl — is how well he’s responded after enduring a disastrous debut. That quick submission loss remains the lone defeat on his record, as the 29-year-old Calgary native has collected five consecutive victories since while steadily climbing the ladder and looking more and more comfortable inside the UFC cage.
UFC 263 EMBEDDED: Episode 1
Featherweight is packed with talent at the moment, which means this is a pivotal contest for these two promising up and comers as they look to continue moving forward in the rankings, though neither will lose too much ground with a loss.
This is the type of early-career crossroads fights that often end up serving as signposts in a competitor’s march towards the top of their respective division, so be sure your snacks are re-loaded, your drinks are full, and you’re settled in when this one gets underway on Saturday evening because you won’t want to miss it.
PANNIE KIANZAD VS. ALEXIS DAVIS
Bantamweights looking to bust into the Top 10 clash as Pannie Kianzad faces former title challenger Alexis Davis.
Kianzad landed on the wrong side of the results in each of her first two UFC appearances, but has looked outstanding ever since, collecting three straight unanimous decision victories to break into the Top 15 in the 135-pound weight class. Now in her 10th year as a pro, the 29-year-old has smooth boxing and a wealth of experience, which makes her an interesting name to track in the wide-open bantamweight ranks.
Following a four-fight stint at flyweight that ended with consecutive losses to contenders Katlyn Chookagian, Jennifer Maia, and Viviane Araujo, the 36-year-old Davis returned to bantamweight in February, collecting a dominant decision win over Sabrina Mazo. Tougher than a three-dollar steak and one of the more experienced fighters on the female side of the roster, the Canadian could quickly catapult herself back into the mix if she’s able to follow up her solid effort against Mazo with a similar showing against Kianzad on Saturday.
FRANK CAMACHO VS. MATT FREVOLA
Sound the “Potential Fight of the Night” klaxon and make sure you’re locked in for this one as all-action maniacs Frank Camacho and Matt Frevola collide in what should be a wildly entertaining lightweight affair.
The 32-year-old Camacho collected Fight of the Night honors in each of his first three UFC appearances, and though the results haven’t always been there, the veteran has continued to find himself in action-packed pairings every time out. Entering on a two-fight skid and with just a single victory in his last five outings, Camacho could really use a win this weekend.
Here’s how game Frevola is: when both he and Arman Tsarukyan lost their opponents on the day of weigh-ins ahead of UFC 257, “The Steamrolla” agreed to step in with the ultra-talented lightweight prospect instead. While he landed on the wrong side of the results, it was the kind of gutsy, no-quit effort that has become Frevola’s trademark and similar to what you should expect when he steps in with Camacho on Saturday.
CHASE HOOPER VS. STEVEN PETERSON
Featherweights looking to build off stoppage victories in their last outings meet here as Chase Hooper and Steven Peterson clash in what should be a wildly entertaining affair.
The youngest fighter ever signed by the UFC, Hooper was down two rounds and a couple minutes away from a second consecutive loss last December when he latched onto a heel hook late in his fight with Peter Barrett to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Though he’s still raw on the feet and looks like a high school student, the 21-year-old Washington state product is slick on the ground, tough as nails, and only going to keep getting better, making him an intriguing fighter to watch now and someone with an abundance of upside going forward.
Fighting for the first time since landing a spinning back fist knockout against Martin Bravo in Mexico City on September 21, 2019, Peterson looks to put together his first winning streak since rattling off six consecutive victories that culminated in him winning the Legacy Fighting Championship bantamweight crown. Representing Fortis MMA, “Ocho” is game and experienced, and will need to lean on both in order to collect a second straight UFC win this weekend.
FARES ZIAM VS. LUIGI VENDRAMINI
Young lightweights looking to build off their first UFC victories clash in this early preliminary card contests as France’s Fares Ziam takes on Brazilian Luigi Vendramini.
Ziam debuted on short notice at UFC 242, dropping a unanimous decision to Don Madge that halted his six-fight winning streak. Just over a year later, the 24-year-old “Smile Killer” returned to the Octagon and collected his first win, outworking Jamie Mullarkey to push his record to 11-3 overall.
Vendramini faced similar circumstances as his opponent, debuting up a division against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, starting well before getting finished a little over a minute into the second round. Injuries left him sidelined for two years, but he returned last October, back down at lightweight, collecting a first-round stoppage win over Jessin Ayari.
This should be an exciting clash between two talented young fighters in one of the most competitive and consistently entertaining divisions in the sport.
UFC 263 Embedded: Episode 1
UFC 263 Embedded: Episode 1
CARLOS FELIPE VS. JAKE COLLIER
Heavyweights handle the responsibility of opening the show this weekend as Carlos Felipe and Jake Collier collide in the first bout of the night.
Felipe made his promotional debut last summer, landing on the unhappy side of a majority decision verdict against Serghei Spivac on Fight Island. Since then, the 26-year-old Brazilian has earned consecutive victories over Yorgan De Castro and Justin Tafa, emerging as a name to watch in the big boy ranks.
Collier finally returned to the Octagon last summer after more than two years on the shelf, moving up to heavyweight and becoming the first of British newcomer Tom Aspinall’s twin 2020 victims. Four months later, the 32-year-old Missouri native was back in the cage, and this time, he looked much better, earning a unanimous decision victory over Gian Villante to bring his UFC record level at four wins and four losses.