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Israel Adesanya and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 263

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    A full house of fans. Two title-fight rematches.

    And Nate Diaz.

    What more could an MMA fan ask for?

    The UFC returned for its second event at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, with a 14-bout show that included a five-fight pay-per-view portion broadcast by ESPN+.

    Middleweights Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori met again—coincidentally, their first match was also in Glendale three years ago—for the former’s championship strap. Flyweights Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno ran it back for Figueiredo‘s 125-pound belt after fighting to a draw six months ago in Las Vegas.

    And the 36-year-old Diaz, who celebrated Arizona’s adoption of the UFC’s rules on marijuana use by smoking a joint during a Thursday press conference, was back in the Octagon for the first time since 2019 against third-ranked welterweight contender Leon Edwards.

    Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Paul Felder were on the cageside microphones for ESPN, while Megan Olivi worked the rest of the room on features and breaking news, and Din Thomas offered technical analysis.

    The B/R combat sports team was in its winners and losers position as well, putting together the authoritative list of both from a show that began shortly after 6 p.m. ET and ended after 1 a.m.

    Click through to see how we saw it, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Whaddya know? Middleweight Israel Adesanya is still middleweight Israel Adesanya.

    Though he was foiled for the first time in his career when he challenged UFC light heavyweight king Jan Blachowicz three months ago in Las Vegas, Adesanya remains unbeatable at 185 pounds.

    The New Zealand-based titleholder made his second encounter with Italian contender Marvin Vettori far less competitive than the first one three years ago, picking the challenger apart with strikes and evading danger when matters went to the ground and earning a unanimous decision in their title-belt rematch.

    All three judges gave Adesanya all five rounds, calling it a 50-45 shutout.

    “Not surprised at all,” he said. “Like I said at the press conferences, whenever he stood up, I sat down because I didn’t feel any threat.”

    Though he’d pushed Adesanya on the way to losing a split decision in 2018, Vettori had precious little to offer in the second go-round. He made multiple ponderous attempts at takedowns and was able to score four in 14 tries but never kept the champion down for an appreciable amount of time.

    The only moment of real intrigue came in the third round, when a takedown attempt was successful and Vettori briefly seized Adesanya’s back and attempted a rear-naked choke.

    Adesanya escaped and fought off a heel hook attempt during the ensuing scramble, accidentally poking Vettori in the eye and later causing a brief delay with a groin strike before the horn ended the round. More of the same followed in the fourth and fifth, though Adesanya said Vettori still wouldn’t concede the result when the two fighters chatted after the final horn.

    “It was a beautiful shutout,” Felder said on the broadcast, “just like he called it.”

    Adesanya reacted to the victory with a challenge of Robert Whittaker, the Australian-based fighter from whom he won the title by second-round KO in October 2019 in Melbourne.

    He colorfully suggested they move matters to his home base for the rematch.

    “We need to run that back in Auckland,” he said. “You don’t get to decide. I decide. And you know why? Because I’m the mother f–king king, b—h.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Brandon Moreno was in a dream.

    He knelt wide-eyed in the center of the cage and appeared unaware of what had occurred.

    Then Deiveson Figueiredo, the man he’d just beaten to seize the UFC flyweight title and become Mexico’s first octagonal world champion, went over and embraced him.

    And it suddenly became real.

    “This moment. This moment is so amazing,” he said. “I worked so hard for this. Watch me now holding this belt. This is unbelievable for me and all the people in my country.”

    The moment he was referring to came at 2:26 of the third round, the instant the Brazilian tapped out after Moreno had locked his left arm under Figueiredo’s chin and squeezed.

    “Today was his day,” Figueiredo said. “He was the bigger man today.”

    Moreno was in charge for most of the previous 12-plus minutes as well, dropping the now-ex-champion with a hard jab in the first round and getting him to the ground with a takedown in the second.

    The battle went horizontal again in the third, and Moreno took Figueiredo’s back and continually went for submissions. The first handful of attempts were successfully fought off before the decisive sequence.

    The two had battled to a five-round draw six months ago after both men had fought 21 days earlier.
    Figueiredo embraced the new champion again after the official announcement and lifted him in the air as the volume from a pro-Moreno crowd reached a crescendo.

    “Tijuana,” Anik said, “you have a champion.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Nate Diaz almost pulled it off.

    Almost.

    The 36-year-old was beaten from corner to corner for about 24 minutes of a 25-minute clash with elite welterweight contender Leon Edwards and then landed a straight left hand on the back end of a one-two combination that almost set the octagonal world spinning in another direction.

    As blood poured from gashes on the right side of his head, over his left eye and alongside his left ear, Diaz pursued as Edwards reeled backward and sideways around the cage. A few follow-up blows grazed the Englishman’s jaw, but the decisive shot never came before the final buzzer locked in Edwards’ win.

    All three judges gave him a 49-46 nod, meaning four rounds to one.

    “I wish I would’ve took his ass the f–k out,” Diaz said.

    Instead, Edwards ran his personal win streak to 10 fights (save for a March no-contest) and scored the third five-round win of his career as he continued to campaign for a shot at 170-pound champ Kamaru Usman.

    “Nate’s a vet. I hit him with everything but the kitchen sink, then he caught me,” Edwards said. “It was hard enough to wobble me. I’ve been wobbled like that once in my career. Fair play to Nate.”

    The fight had been slotted as the co-main event at UFC 262 in Houston but was scrapped when Diaz suffered an injury. Instead, it was moved to Saturday’s show and became the first five-round, non-title, non-main event in UFC history.

    “I had a hard time getting going tonight,” Diaz said. “I had a good flow going a month ago. I think it slowed my momentum.”

    Indeed, he had precious little to offer against Edwards through four rounds, taking heavy blows throughout—until the rally that nearly blew the roof off the arena packed by a partisan Diaz crowd.

    “That was a crazy fifth round, but let’s not take away from what happened in the rest of the fight,” Rogan said. “Nate was looking like a horror movie just wandering toward [Edwards].

    “It looks like he was hit by a machete.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    It’s been a difficult time for squeamish types.

    Seven weeks after Chris Weidman’s shattered shin at UFC 261 and just four weeks past Ronaldo Souza’s snapped arm at UFC 262, Jamahal Hill’s number came up on the serious injury roulette wheel.

    The previously unbeaten light heavyweight had his left elbow mangled by Scottish jiu-jitsu ace Paul Craig, and it flailed sickeningly as he was pelted by strikes until referee Al Guinee finally intervened to cement the TKO win at 1:59 of the first round.

    A significant betting underdog, per UFC.com, Craig arrived at the Octagon suggesting he’d test his younger foe’s jiu-jitsu chops and voluntarily took the fight to the floor on his back.

    He had Hill’s right arm tied up during a scramble, and, as Hill maneuvered to escape, he seized upon the left. Craig grabbed the wrist and locked in as he rolled over, appearing to at least dislocate the left elbow if not far worse. The limb “flopped like a rubber arm,” in Felder’s words, as Craig eventually let the hold go and simply pounded Hill’s head with right-elbow ground strikes until Guinee stepped in.

    “It was like a wet fish dancing all over my body,” Craig said.

    “That was one helluva tight arm bar. I felt it go. It’s the ref’s job to protect the opponent; it’s my job to finish the fight.”

    The fighters embraced as the official announcement was made, following a week of significant tension at press conferences leading into the bout. Craig was roundly booed by the Arizona crowd on his approach to the cage from the locker room.

    He entered the fight ranked 14th at 205 pounds, a slot ahead of Hill at No. 15.

    “If I didn’t have you on the walk in,” he said, “I hope I have you on the walk out.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Every indication was that it’d be a barnburner.

    And the bout between lightweights Drew Dober and Brad Riddell in the final slot before the pay-per-view broadcast did nothing to disappoint.

    The Colorado-based Dober and his foe from New Zealand swapped hard punches, precise kicks and intermittent takedowns throughout their 15-minute encounter before Riddell was awarded a decision win.

    All three judges gave him a narrow 29-28 nod.

    “The grit and toughness of these guys, amazing,” Felder said.

    “This was a huge fight for them at lightweight. Power punches for days. They mixed in their wrestling. They mixed in their jiu-jitsu. This is what you want out of a fight.”

    Indeed, Dober started strong on his feet and dropped Riddell with a straight left hand in the first round before being wobbled himself with a counter shot just before returning to his corner.

    The second round was more clearly in Riddell’s favor after he got the fight to the floor and landed some effective punches while there, and Dober closed the final round with power punches that staggered Riddell and left him again looking for a takedown to stop the barrage.

    Statistics showed Riddell ahead 89-73 in significant strikes, up 5-1 in takedowns and surpassing Dober by a 2:30-to-1:05 margin in control time.

    He improved to 4-0 in the UFC.

    “I had a driving force that was bigger than me,” said Riddell, who had a close friend die shortly before the fight. “[Dober is] a very, very dense guy. I could tell he would be tough to finish.

    “I’m more of a muscle car, not a Ferrari.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    So you think you don’t/didn’t like school, huh?

    Try the education Chase Hooper’s been experiencing lately.

    The 21-year-old from Washington was one of the UFC’s hottest prospects after he appeared on Dana White’s Contender Series as a teenager and ran his pro record to 9-0-1 after he won his octagonal debut in 2019.

    But it’s not gone so well since.

    The Dream was handed his first pro loss by 28-fight veteran Alex Caceres one year ago and then had to rally for a third-round submission against Peter Barrett in December before dropping another decision to another 28-fight foe—this time rugged featherweight Steven Peterson—on Saturday’s early preliminary card.

    All three judges saw it for Peterson, two by 30-27 counts and a third by a 29-28 tally.

    Still, the winner had to forfeit 20 percent of his purse after weighing 2.5 pounds over the contracted weight of 146. Felder implied that it might have been an intentional miss designed to allow Peterson to retain more strength for a grappling-centric foe in Hooper, and it’s true that the 31-year-old held his own and even thrived during the frequent stretches when the two went to the ground.

    Peterson shook off Hooper’s continuous tries at knee and heel locks and landed several hard punches and elbows from that position. He also dominated while the fighters were on their feet and improved his pro record to 19-9 in his first bout since September 2019.

    “He did what he had to do and avoided all the danger on the ground,” Rogan said. “Chase Hooper did a fabulous job getting him into positions, but [Peterson] played great defense.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Go ahead, try to have a better debut than Terrance McKinney just did.

    Well, except for maybe one thing.

    Already a 26-year-old with a compellingly redemptive backstory, the Washington-based lightweight added “UFC record holder” to his resume with a seven-second KO of Matt Frevola.

    It was the fourth-fastest finish in UFC history and the fastest ever at 155 pounds.

    “I’m just getting started,” he said. “I’m only here for one reason. I really want that UFC belt, and I won’t stop until I get it.”

    McKinney arrived with a 10-3 pro record and had already won three fights in 2021, including a first-round KO in the LFA promotion just eight days ago in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

    It was all just a prologue to Saturday’s fight, though, which saw him stride from his corner, touch gloves and instantly land a right jab-straight left combination that dropped the rugged Frevola flat on his back.

    McKinney swooped in for six follow-up right hammerfists before referee Jason Herzog pulled him off.

    “I saw he was coming forward, so I was just waiting for the time,” he said. “I saw him step in. My coach said, ‘As soon as you see him step in, hit that one-two,’ and I was like bam bam.

    “I can’t ask for a better result, honestly. I’m so grateful to God, and that was freaking sweet.”

    In fact, the only bad moment for McKinney came in his celebration.

    He ran over and vaulted to the top of the cage after the stoppage but landed awkwardly and appeared to damage his right knee. He limped to the center of the cage for the official announcement but told Rogan afterward that he didn’t think the injury was too serious.

    “It should be OK,” he said. “I just need to stretch it a little bit. I’ll be fine.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

    Main Card

    Israel Adesanya def. Marvin Vettori by unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45)

    Brandon Moreno def. Deiveson Figueiredo by submission (rear-naked choke), 2:26, Round 3

    Leon Edwards def. Nate Diaz by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46)

    Belal Muhammad def. Demian Maia by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)

    Paul Craig def. Jamahal Hill by TKO, 1:59, Round 1

           

    Preliminary Card

    Brad Riddell def. Drew Dober by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Eryk Anders def. Darren Stewart by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27)

    Lauren Murphy def. Joanne Calderwood by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

    Movsar Evloev def. Hakeem Dawodu by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)

            

    Early Preliminary Card

    Pannie Kianzad def. Alexis Davis by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

    Terrance McKinney def. Matt Frevola by KO, 0:07, Round 1

    Steven Peterson def. Chase Hooper by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

    Fares Ziam def. Luigi Vendramini by majority decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-28)

    Carlos Felipe def. Jake Collier by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)

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