Adesanya Beats Vettori to Defend Title at UFC 263

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
June 14, 2021 Updated: June 14, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz.—Israel Adesanya did not like the way his first fight against Marvin Vettori went despite winning in a split decision.

The crafty UFC middleweight star left no doubt in the rematch, pummeling Vettori with a flurry of kicks to the head and legs to defend his title.

Adesanya dominated Vettori at UFC 263 Saturday night, earning a unanimous decision to remain undefeated in the middleweight division.

“I’m still the king,” Adesanya said.

Adesanya (21–1) kept out of reach from Vettori’s powerful punches most of the night and used his feet effectively, keeping the Italian fighter off balance. The Nigeria-born New Zealander won 50–45 on all three judges’ scorecards in the third full-capacity UFC event.

Adesanya lost to light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz in his last fight while trying to add a second title belt, but remains undefeated as a middleweight.

“Adesanya is unbelievable and he seems to be getting better,” UFC President Dana White said.

In the co-main event, flyweight Brandon Moreno (19–5–2) became the first Mexican-born champion in UFC history, using a rear-naked choke in the third round in a rematch against Deiveson Figueiredo (20–2–1).

The two title fights in the desert were tainted with bad blood.

Adesanya and Vettori fought in Glendale three years ago, a split-decision win by Adesanya that left neither fighter satisfied.

Vettori believed he won, Adesanya thought it was too close and the buildup to the rematch was contentious, including an off-the-rails news conference Thursday.

Vettori (17–4–1), as he did in the first fight, had some success on the ground in the rematch after a couple of takedowns in front of a sold-out crowd. Adesanya wriggled free and was active with his feet, wearing out the Italian’s front leg while dodging most of his big punches.

Adesanya snaked out of another takedown in the fifth round and continued to work over Vettori with his feet to defend his title.

“Even when he stood up at the press conference, I sat down because I didn’t feel any threat,” Adesanya said.

Figueiredo and Moreno fought in December, a draw that kept the title belt in Figueiredo’s corner and denied Moreno’s bid to become the UFC’s first Mexican-born champion.

Like Adesanya and Vettori, the two flyweights verbally jabbed at each other in the fight’s lead-up, the intense Figueirdo doing his best to get under the skin of the happy-go-lucky Moreno.

Moreno, the No. 1 flyweight contender, went after the Brazilian from the start in the rematch, stunning him with a big shot in the first round. He reversed a takedown in the second round and forced Figueiredo to submit with a choke 2 1/2 minutes into the third, sending roars echoing off the rafters.

Figueiredo put the bad blood aside after the fight, hugging then picking up the emotional Moreno to the delight of the crowd.

“I can’t believe it,” Moreno said. “This moment is very special. I’m always trying to make jokes and play with everybody, but today was an emotional day for me. I started to cry because I felt it in the bottom of my heart. I worked so hard for that belt.”

Charismatic welterweight Nate Diaz—he lit up a joint at the pre-fight news conference—returned to the octagon after a nearly two-year absence and was a massive crowd favorite, yet a big underdog by the oddsmakers against third-ranked Leon Edwards.

Edwards (19–3) showed why early, leaving Diaz bloodied by opening a gash above his left eye—he previously cut it in training—and another on the side of his head in the first non-title, five-round fight in UFC history.

The 36-year-old from Stockton, California, still had plenty of fight—and showmanship—left in him, wobbling Edwards with a big left in the fifth to bring the crowd to their feet.

“He was sleepwalking,” said Diaz, who fired up another joint during his post-fight news conference.

The Englishman managed to evade Diaz (21–13) over the final minute and won by unanimous decision, putting himself in position for a possible title shot against Kamaru Usman.

“I feel the world knows what I deserve next,” Edwards said. “I deserve a world title shot next.”

Diaz, who hopes to fight again in a few months, invited everyone in the arena to his house for a party after the fight.

Light heavyweight Paul Craig opened the main card by dislocating Jamahal Hill’s arm in the first round, winning on a TKO when Hill couldn’t defend himself while being pummeled to the head.

White said Hill’s arm was put back in place after the fight and he had full range of motion.

Welterweight Belal Muhammad followed with a unanimous decision over Demian Maia.

By John Marshall

The Associated Press
The Associated Press