UFC 263 begins a busy summer Saturday with two title fights between familiar opponents. Three years ago, Israel Adesanya had the only split-decision win of his career against Marvin Vettori. Adesanya won the UFC middleweight championship and Vettori has won five straight bouts. Could the three laps Vettori spent with Adesanya in the Octagon be the deciding factor in turning the result around the second time around?
Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno have been fighting more recently when they competed for the UFC flyweight championship in December. It was one of the most memorable fights of 2020 and ended with an even tighter result, a majority draw. Figueiredo has claimed that his illness and hospitalization prior to the fight were responsible for making the fight so close. Will a healthy Figueiredo lead to a different result?
Outside of the title bouts at the top of the map, there’s a high profile welterweight bout between Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz. Could the winner possibly skip the line if discussions of a rematch between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington move on?
Tuesday brings the second episode of The Ultimate Fighter and a first look at Mitch Raposo, one of the most intriguing fighters of the season. He’s only 22 but he works with the New England Cartel and could be someone to see for years to come regardless of how he fares on the show.
Our panel of experts, made up of Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim, breaks down the biggest questions about UFC 263 and separates what is real and what is not.
Mitch Raposo is someone to watch out for regardless of his TUF score
Okamoto: real. Whether Raposo TUF 29 wins or not, he is definitely a fighter to watch out for. Raposo is only 22 years old but he was number 1 overall this season, made by coach Alexander Volkanovski. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in confidence and ancestry. Raposo is from Massachusetts and has been training MMA four to five times a week since he was 12.
Raposo has worked with Massachusetts-born and UFC veteran Joe Lauzon in the past, but he joined the famous New England Cartel in 2018. This group includes bantamweight contender Rob Font and featherweight contender Calvin Kattar. Raposo is coached and led by NEC chief Tyson Chartier. Raposo was part of Font’s camp for his fights against Thomas Almeida and current Bellator MMA champion Sergio Pettis in 2018.
Speaking to ESPN pre-season, Raposo said his age should actually be an asset to him this season. He sees this opportunity as a possible career changer, but is also aware that he still has a long way to go in order to realize his potential. That let him easily go into a season that featured other contestants in his weight class who have a higher urgency to do the UFC right now.
The winner of Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz gets a title fight
Okamoto: This is real Friends. I know UFC President Dana White said he’d like to play Kamaru Usman against Colby Covington 2 next. And frankly, this has been the struggle for some time. It’s a fight I’d really like to see personally … but it’s not signed yet, is it? And Usman has been vocal about how he doesn’t believe Covington deserves to fight him as he has only fought once since they met in late 2019. And beyond that, we know Usman and the UFC are in a positive relationship right now. The promotion has a great respect for what Usman does and is free to have a strong say in his career.
From now on it sounds absurd to suggest that a fight between Usman and Edwards might work as well as a fight between Usman and Covington. But that’s MMA. Things change in an instant. And when Edwards goes out and pounds a superstar in Diaz on a card that is used as a headline by another star in Israel Adesanya, it’s a lot of positive press. When he performs and then finds his way around the microphone, do you really think he can’t skip Covington? Especially if that’s what the champion wants? Absolutely, he could.
What if Diaz gets upset? Usman is on record that he doesn’t think Diaz would accept a title shot if offered to him. I think we’d find out if he’s right. Because if Diaz won this fight, I think the UFC would be open to him if he fought Usman. And I know Usman would push for it.
Figueiredo is the odds favorite against Moreno due to illness before the first fight
Raimondi: Deiveson Figueiredo’s title defense against Brandon Moreno last December at UFC 256 was one of the best fights of 2020. The fight for the flyweight championship ended in a majority draw when Figueiredo was shot below the belt from Moreno in. had decreased one point the third round. Figueiredo retained his title, but the outcome – and how good the fight was – made an instant rematch the desired scenario for the UFC.
After that fight, Figueiredo conducted several interviews and talked about how he was hospitalized with a stomach ailment the night before UFC 256. He said that if he hadn’t been sick a few hours before entering the Octagon, he would have killed Moreno. I believe Figueiredo when he says that he is not doing well and that he has to go to the hospital. The other part? Is it really easy for Figueiredo against Moreno when he’s 100 percent healthy? It’s impossible to tell, but we’ll get a slightly clearer picture of this Saturday.
Figueiredo is the 240 favorite, according to Caesars at William Hill, and rightly so. He’s unbeaten for six years in a row and looked dynamic and sometimes dominant. But his status as a favorite has little to do with getting sick before UFC 256 not really to this statement.
Let’s look a little deeper here. It comes as no surprise that Figueiredo falls ill between the weigh-in and the fight. The flyweight champion shed a ton to get down to 125 pounds. He missed weight on an alleged title chance for him against Joseph Benavidez in February 2020. When a fighter loses that much weight and then tries to rehydrate and regenerate after the weigh-in, there’s always a chance that you’re upset your stomach.
It cannot be said whether that was the case at UFC 256 in December last year. But consider: Figueiredo had only successfully defended his title three weeks earlier against Alex Perez by submitting his first round. Fighting twice in a short amount of time is no big deal. But lose weight, rehydrate and do it three weeks later? That’s a potential recipe for disaster. The body is not designed to lift the weight up and down in a short period of time.
If the question is why Figueiredo is such a big favorite, I would argue that it has little to do with Prefight’s disease last time around. This time Figueiredo is fresh as he hasn’t lost weight in six months. For me, that’s the variable that’s at play here, unlike the first fight, which makes the biggest difference.
What Vettori learned in his first fight with Adesanya will mean the difference between winning and losing
Wagenheim: I wish I had studied psychology in college because there is so much to analyze in the mental game surrounding this fight. The 15 minutes that Marvin Vettori spent with Israel Adesanya in the Octagon in 2018 may or may not pay off for the challenger from a technical point of view. Fighters keep evolving, so who knows how their skills will match this time around? But his time at the champion will definitely affect his mental approach. Vettori knows what it feels like to face a dynamic fighter whose opponents take a while to figure it out. And the fact that the first fight ended in a split decision, Vettori says that one of the three judges saw it that way. That has to boost his confidence.
Adesanya has suffered his first loss and that can be a drag on a fighter’s mind. He apparently took the loss calmly. But you never know The memory could make him hesitate for a split second at a crucial moment, and that could be the difference. Or the champion will see the loss to light heavyweight title holder Jan Blachowicz as nothing more than a bump on a completely different path than the one he treads as the dominant middleweight king. And just as Vettori knows him well from the three rounds together, Adesanya is of course more familiar with this challenger’s game than with anyone else he has met.
How will it all play out? We could learn that while neither has lost 185 pounds since the 2018 meeting, one has progressed more than the other. We could see familiarity backfire in any of these guys in the form of a misjudgment based on old evidence.
In the end I say not reallybecause while I believe Vettori will benefit from his familiarity with Adesanya’s game, I don’t imagine that this is the deciding factor. I think the champion will find a way. However, based on what we saw three years ago, I expect this fight will have more twists and turns than Adesanya’s other two title defenses. And that’s enough to get me interested.