UFC 263 was a night of clear answers to many questions. Israel Adesanya had it much easier in his rematch against Marvin Vettori and added to his legacy as a middleweight champion. So has he done everything he has to to prove his greatness in the division, or is another rematch – against Robert Whittaker – at stake for Adesanya’s legacy?
On the other end of the spectrum, Brandon Moreno’s time as the UFC flyweight champion is just getting started. His performance against Deiveson Figueiredo was perhaps the most shocking of the night in Glendale, Arizona, and the ceiling appears to be high for the 27-year-old who is the UFC’s youngest active champion. So should a trilogy fight follow next, or should Moreno and Figueiredo each go it alone and take a few wins before fighting a third time?
Despite Leon Edwards dominating Nate Diaz for 24 minutes, more people are talking about Diaz and his late push to win from behind after Saturday night. Does that mean Saturday’s win was a net loss for Edwards, despite being the biggest win of his career?
And among the title fights and show stealing on the main map, most of what Paul Craig did in his win over Jamahal Hill fell by the wayside, save for a seemingly gruesome looking arm injury for Hill. UFC President Dana White said after the card that Hill’s arm was not broken, but it was dislocated and re-locked and he had full freedom of movement. How big was the win for Craig and his hopes of climbing the light heavyweight ranks?
Our panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, and Jeff Wagenheim breaks down some of the biggest questions from UFC 263 to find out what is real and what is not.
Israel Adesanya has nothing more to prove in the middleweight division
Israel Adesanya explains to Megan Olivi that the only reason he wants a rematch with Robert Whittaker is to be able to fight him on his own territory.
Raimondi: Adesanya is one of the most unique and compelling champions in UFC history. When it comes to his career from prospect to contender for UFC champion, few have made it as he has.
Adesanya won his third successful UFC title defense by unanimous decision on Saturday night, beating Vettori comprehensively. This fight was a rematch of a 2018 fight that Adesanya won by split decision. Now another rematch seems on the horizon as Adesanya will likely next defend against Whittaker, the man Adesanya knocked out to become the undisputed champion in October 2019.
On the surface, it looks like Adesanya has already cleared the division. Look at the UFC rankings, Adesanya beat the top three competitors by £ 185: Whittaker, Paulo Costa and Vettori (twice). To be honest, none of these fights were that competitive at all. Expand that look at the leaderboard to the top 5 and Adesanya has beaten four of them (Derek Brunson is # 5). Jared Cannonier in fourth place is the only member of that group that Adesanya didn’t fight, and Cannonier loses to Whittaker.
Usually the combination of all of these things would mean that maybe it is time for Adesanya to step up and try her hand at light heavyweight. But he’s already done that. Just three months ago, Adesanya fought for the £ 205 title at UFC 259 and lost to Jan Blachowicz. A rematch would not make sense at this point in time and probably for a long time to come. That’s why I say “not really” for this statement.
Adesanya still has a lot to prove in the middleweight division – even if it’s just a matter of leaving absolutely no doubt that he is one of the best middleweight fighters in MMA history. Adesanya now has 10 straight wins from 185 pounds. The record holder in this division is Anderson Silva, who won 13 in a row in this division.
Silva is one of Adesanya’s MMA idols, and he would surely love to have the same conversation with the man who held the middleweight title for seven years.
I would be surprised if Adesanya doesn’t get promoted back to light heavyweight at some point, be it for a title shot or a big money fight against someone like Jon Jones. But still dominating your division and taking on all comers is not something to fret about.
And guess what? Whittaker has beaten the top guys in the division three times in a row since that loss to Adesanya. There are many people who could be convinced that Whittaker is better than ever and won’t make the same mistakes in a second fight. As against Vettori, Adesanya will get the chance to answer all open questions emphatically.
The UFC should book Moreno vs. Figueiredo 3 immediately
Brandon Moreno celebrates with his wife and daughter after rear-naked choke defeating Deiveson Figueiredo to win the UFC flyweight championship.
Helwani: Not really.
To be honest, I wouldn’t care if they sent that back right away. The first two fights were fantastic. But I think it is fitting for both men to part a little after successive fights. There are plenty of new opponents for both men to fight next. Then, if all goes well, they meet again, with both riding on a wave of momentum – and maybe it just takes one more victory.
Remember, Figueiredo did a good job of the UFC by taking on the first Moreno fight just three weeks after defending his title against Alex Perez. So we hope the UFC is ready to return the favor soon by not fighting too many times before Figueiredo regains his belt.
More importantly, for the time being, the UFC needs to figure out how to book a Moreno fight in Mexico as soon as possible, or, if the ongoing pandemic precludes it, a fight in a market with a strong Hispanic following like the one on Saturday night in Phoenix. The UFC has hungered for a Mexico-born champion for years, and now they have one – and he’s charismatic and fun too.
Edwards failed to capitalize on his first opportunity against a really big name
Leon Edwards abandons his performance after defeating Nate Diaz by unanimous decision at UFC 263.
Okamoto: Not really. The temptation is to say otherwise. Edwards did Almost lost in the last minute. That was a justified shock. And he did Failing to put Colby Covington in the right row for a title shot – which he could have done if the night had gone perfectly. But at the end of the day, UFC 263 was a really good night for Edwards.
Edwards didn’t become the fans’ favorite superstar overnight for his performance, but defeating Diaz should fix an issue he’s had for several years. Nobody wanted to fight him. It never offered enough advantages. Covington wasn’t interested in fighting Edwards because, in the end, he never had to. The fighters at the top of this division have long been allowed to ignore Leon Edwards, but I no longer believe they can.
Between the winning streak of nine fights, the unmistakable victory over a name like Diaz, and the fact that he really dominated this fight even though he almost lost it in the end, the biggest names in the division can no longer ignore him.
For a man who has now been ignored for years, that mission is accomplished for Edwards.
Paul Craig’s victory over Jamahal Hill is not being appreciated enough
Wagenheim: All Saturday night I couldn’t wait for UFC 263 to hit its main card. It wasn’t just the two heated title fights at the head of the marquee or even the return of the one and only Nate Diaz.
Every fan loved these fights, and so did I. But I was no less enthusiastic about what might be the last UFC performance of 43-year-old Demian Maia, the most sublime grappler of all time in MMA. On that front, I’m not going to go into those scratch-my-eyes-off levels of hard-to-watch over 15 minutes here. I mean, 1-for-21 on takedowns? It was a sad night for an all-time great.
But luckily for the grappling fanboy in me, the main card’s opening fight gave me what I was expecting – and maybe a little more than we all asked for together. Paul Craig ditched a mat clinic against previously undefeated Jamahal Hill, who learned a lesson about the danger of following your hubris into a fight you probably won’t win. I would say realbecause Craig is lined up for a pretty big fight next time.
Hill is a sleek, powerful striker who had a huge advantage on his feet. But when Craig put his cards on the table early on, on guard, Hill didn’t struggle back to standing. Instead, he decided to give his grappling a try, and in less than two minutes, Craig was leaving Hill with his first loss of his career and a grotesque-looking left arm injury. (And thank you, Referee Al Guinee, for taking the time before you abandon the fight, so that we can have an extra long window of time to see the arm flapping cruelly back and forth while Hill is not against hits could defend face. um.)
Craig is unbeaten in his last five fights with three straight wins. Although he is not credited with a submission win over Hill (the UFC recognizes this as a knockout), his five submission wins are still the second most all-time in UFC light heavyweight history, one behind Glover Teixeira’s six.
Craig had a win that was worth the $ 50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus he received. Brandon Moreno then dropped in at the co-main event and spun a masterpiece to become the men’s flyweight champion – and Moreno did it through submission while earning the other bonus for the night’s performance. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad night for grappling after all.