Rematches were the theme of the UFC 263 title fights on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona. Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya faced Marvin Vettori and was looking for a more definitive win than the split decision he won in their first fight in 2018. Deiveson Figueiredo wanted to prove that a trip to the hospital before the night of their first flyweight title bout was the only reason Brandon Moreno almost beat him before both fighters settled for a majority draw.
Adesanya was successful, taking a clear, decisive victory over Vettori to put his dominance at 185 pounds in the limelight. His attack on Vettori’s lead leg and takedown defense always kept him one step ahead of his opponent.
The other champion wasn’t so lucky. Figueiredo lost to Moreno in a brilliant performance for the new Mexican flyweight champion. Sure, Nate Diaz’s late rally against Leon Edwards made the arena buzz, but it was Moreno’s win that took the emotions inside the building to a new level. In the Octagon with his family and his new UFC championship, Moreno poured out his heart with tears in his eyes and a new star in the sport was born.
Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Brett Okamoto react to the two top bouts at UFC 263.
Moreno is the perfect champion to put Mexico on the MMA card
Raimondi: Moreno is now the first Mexico-born UFC champion, and the promotion couldn’t have asked for a better one. He’s incredibly personable, has a unique charisma and an underdog spirit that you can’t help but take root.
I was surprised by the response Moreno, who is relatively new to the spotlight, received this week in Phoenix. But the city, which has a large Mexican-American population, quickly embraced him. He was celebrated at the press conference and weigh-in at a level not far removed from more established stars like Diaz and Adesanya. And with the win at UFC 263 and the title win, he seems well positioned to become a viable headliner in the Southwest and California.
More importantly, this is a big deal for the UFC in Mexico. Moreno is from Tijuana, and his Entram gym there has been in a boom since he was successful at the Octagon. That he’s champion should only take that to the next level. Mexico is still – and probably always will be – a boxing country, but it is also a country of people who love and appreciate martial arts. Mexican style is a real thing, and Moreno embodies that. He never stops moving forward and he’s a finisher. He showed that on Saturday evening against the very dangerous Figueiredo.
Moreno has all the ingredients – from fighting style to personality – to be the UFC’s first Mexico-born superstar. Cain Velasquez was a huge thing in Mexico, even though he was born in the United States. I’ve been to Mexico City with Velasquez and he can’t walk around there without people flocking to him for photos or autographs. This is what the future could look like for Moreno, maybe even bigger. And when young Mexican athletes see what he’s done, more might prefer MMA to boxing. The possibilities are endless and the UFC must be incredibly excited to see what the future might bring in this key market.
Moreno’s game plan perfectly implemented
Wagenheim: From the first encounter between Moreno and Figueiredo the story emerged that the draw was only due to a foul by the champions, that Figueiredo would have won the fight in December if he had not lost a point from a low blow in the third round. A referee even rated the fight for the Brazilian fighter despite deducting points.
So maybe Moreno had something to prove to the crowds on Saturday, but he didn’t look like he had anything to prove to himself. He fought confidently from the start.
It wasn’t just the mental game that made Moreno the champion, however. He demonstrated skill and perseverance in both stand-up and grappling that were one step ahead of Figueiredo. That showed up pretty early in the fight when Moreno’s aggression put the champion on the defensive. And when a Moreno jab sent Figueiredo onto the silver screen late in the first round, the challenger was in control. When the horn sounded, Moreno had an advantage of 25-7 on significant strikes.
Moreno still had work to do. Figueiredo showed urgency from lap 2 and Moreno didn’t flinch. The challenger was knocked down and threatened twice by the champion’s iron guillotine stranglehold. Not only did Moreno defend the abandonment, but he reversed his position and began working towards his own tapout attempt. As the round went on, it became clear that Moreno had an answer to everything Figueiredo accused him of, and the confidence with which he started the night only grew. He showed an almost perfect performance.
The final act of the masterpiece was Moreno’s relentless pursuit of a finish on Round 3, which showed the brave heart of a champion. And it earned him a champion’s belt.
Israel Adesanya looks so sacrosanct at middleweight he actually needed Robert Whittaker to do what he did
Israel Adesanya calls Robert Whittaker over and says he wants to fight for their rematch in Auckland, New Zealand.
Okamoto: For the past two years, it has looked like Whittaker was a thorn in Adesanya’s side as a rematch between them wasn’t that attractive. But at the same time Whittaker kept beating guys who could be a new challenge for Adesanya. He beat Darren Till, whom Adesanya wanted to fight. He defeated Jared Cannonier, against whom Adesanya wanted to fight.
After defeating Kelvin Gastelum in April, the narrative changed. It no longer feels like Whittaker is fending off possible fights for Adesanya. It feels like he’s fighting for Adesanya. And that’s what Adesanya needs because he currently weighs 185 pounds. This back and forth with Gastelum in 2019 feels like it was a long time ago. Most recently he crossed against Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa and now Marvin Vettori. He needs a matchup that will really test him in this weight class, and if it turns out to be true the feeling is that Whittaker can do that.