Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will defend his belt against Marvin Vettori at Saturday’s UFC 263 Main Event in Glendale, Arizona.
It’s a rematch of an untitled bout that happened randomly in Glendale in April 2018. Adesanya (20-1) defeated Vettori (17-3-1) by split decision in a three-round match that saw Adesanya on her feet, but Vettori made a late comeback behind his floor game.
Former middleweight champion Chris Weidman didn’t see this fight live but remembers the feedback he received from those who did.
“There was a lot of influence behind Adesanya, everyone thought he was really good,” Weidman told ESPN. “But then I remember an Italian who wasn’t a wrestler beat him.”
Before the championship rematch this weekend, Weidman took a closer look at this first meeting. Weidman says there is still a lot to do three years later.
“It really depends on the strategy, what you bring with you and what you learned from the first fight,” said Weidman.
Here are his keys to the fight, as they shared with ESPN.
# 1: Vettori’s takedowns
If you watch Vettori in the first fight, he got a clinch position on the first round, which is perfect. He locked his hands. If you do, it should be a takedown every time – but he was clueless there. He kept trying to take an inside trip, like three or four times, and it was horrible. The way he did it, you can’t get an insider trip with anyone. You really need to get your body to one side and commit to it.
I hope he worked on his clinching offensive, but he just isn’t. Vettori isn’t a wrestler, and that takes five rounds of a different type of cardio. He’s more of a forward so he really has to change his style.
At the same time he shot the single leg into the double in the third round – he hadn’t even folded his hands properly and was able to pull Adesanya down. Which … just tells me that Israel isn’t that strong. Vettori wouldn’t be able to pull a normal guy’s leg with poor technique like he did in this fight, but Vettori felt himself leave that cage. The grappling exchange in the first fight had a lot to do with strength. Adesanya is a weak guy for the weight class. He’s small and thin – that’s why he has great cardio and long reach – but if you grab him, he’s not that strong. Vettori definitely knows that Israel is not the strongest guy. He’s had a couple of takedown attempts that were just horrible, but I think that’s because he’s alien. If only he can improve his technique, it will be easier for him this time.
# 2: Adesanya’s feints
Chris Weidman shows how Israel Adesanya used his feints to control the distance against Marvin Vettori.
Adesanya’s feints are so important. If he can land some big punches in that first round, he’ll likely be able to win this fight the rest of the way with feinting alone. He’s going to bait Vettori with feinting and then land the big stuff – he could really tear him apart. In all fairness, his feints are probably his best weapon.
I really believe that there is no one better than Adesanya when it comes to feints, distance control and the dance they want. When people overreact and underreact. In the first fight he made Vettori overreact with feinting and then underreact when … was actually thrown – only with feinting. Make him worry about what he will do next.
This is the fight Adesanya must wage. When he does this, it’s so hard to close the distance because there are so many weapons to worry about. You can see Vettori get frustrated and get stuck throwing punch after punch.
No. 3: Adesanya’s problems from his back?
It looks like Adesanya almost has two different lines of strategy to contend with. One of them is taking your time, conserving energy, not rushing to get back on your feet – many mistakes can be made and your opponent can capitalize on it. The other train of thought is to keep moving on your back. When the other is better on the ground than you, you keep moving and looking for a way back on your feet.
In the first fight, Adesanya looked like he was stuck between the two strategies and never really made up his mind on either strategy. There have been amazing strikers who literally just hold their position on the ground. Anderson Silva had an amazing career as someone who wasn’t the greatest [and] the strongest [or the] the best grapple but if you used the energy to beat him he would just relax, stay calm and wait for the umpire to straighten you up and … [be] less tired than you are, or waiting for the next round.
Adesanya has both options available, but in this fight I think that one can get rid of his back by building frames, pressing his back against the cage, and getting back on his feet. Puts yourself in danger because Vettori is not the type I scare into holding me back and choking myself out. I wouldn’t mind Adesanya getting a hook and even giving up his back to get on his feet because I don’t think there is much danger there. If you are fighting a seasoned jiu-jitsu practitioner like Demian Maia, you don’t. So it depends on the guy you are fighting. In this fight, he has to do better to get on his feet and create a tussle.
No. 4: Vettori “brings his feet with him”
Chris Weidman explains how Marvin Vettori adjusted his footwork in the third round against Israel Adesanya.
One of the problems Vettori struggled with in the first and second rounds was that he didn’t bring his feet to the left hand. He throws up his left hand, his feet stay behind and Adesanya, the taller guy, can reach him. It’s wasted movement and puts Vettori in trouble where he can be countered.
Now, in the third round, his coaches must have said something to him because he’s a whole new guy. He walks forward with his feet under him all the time. He throws the left cross and the right push comes right after that. With the right hook he is now dangerous. You can see this makes Adesanya uncomfortable. He moves up. He’s getting sloppy. He starts throwing punches that he didn’t throw before. This is the kind of fight Vettori can win.
Can Vettori stay relaxed while applying this constant pressure? And even if he does, it gives him more opportunities to win the fight, but it also makes Adesanya much more diverse and dangerous because of his counterstrikes. It’s almost like Vettori has to stand in the fire to win. And I’ll say Adesanya saw that Vettori didn’t always bring his feet, and when that happens, he doesn’t have a lot of power. Adesanya was unimpressed with Vettori’s clout, and I think this will allow Adesanya to open up and become his best faster in battle as there will be fewer empathic processes.
Forecast: When I look at the first fight and think about this second one, I think neither of the two has changed too much. When Adesanya is best on her feet, he is something to see. I think the odds are in his favor. I just don’t think Vettori has the bite of putting pressure and doing it sloppily for five rounds without exhausting himself and eventually being put in a position he doesn’t want to be in and he gets chopped off and turned off. He’s a tough guy, but he hasn’t been conditioned to wrestle with a guy like Adesanya in five rounds, so I choose Adesanya.