Israel Adesanya retained his middleweight title in the main event of UFC 263 on Saturday night, beating Marvin Vettori via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) in a rematch three years in the making.
Adesanya, who outpointed Vettori in their previous encounter, flicked out kicks in the early moments amid intense pressure from his challenger, who soon caught a leg kick and forced the champion down to the mat. The Italian was unable to keep Adesanya there for long, however, and the Nigerian-born New Zealander showed good head movement throughout the remainder of the round to evade Vettori’s strikes.
Adesanya (21-1) was able to deny two takedown attempts in the second round and found increasing success with leg kicks, leading Vettori’s team to call on the 27-year-old to close the distance more quickly in the third frame.
The Italian did so, charging Adesanya and landing a takedown before taking the champion’s back and very nearly locking in a rear naked choke. Adesanya managed to twist out of the submission attempt before also escaping a leg lock, and Vettori’s near misses had the challenger fatigued.
An aware Adesanya, 31, dropped Vettori (17-5-1) with a leg kick and began to look for more dynamic strikes but accidentally caught his opponent with a kick to the groin, allowing the Italian a breather just before the end of the third round.
Vettori was unable to muster enough energy to trouble the champion in the fourth or fifth, though, and came up well short on all three judges’ scorecards.
In the co-main event, Brandon Moreno submitted Deiveson Figueiredo in the third round to win the men’s flyweight title, six months after the pair fought to a majority draw.
Moreno (19-5) looked sharp from the very start as he found homes for various combinations, while the champion looked rather cautious in comparison. Moreno made Figueiredo (20-2) pay for his hesitance, dropping the Brazilian with a left hand later in the first round, though the titleholder displayed composure on the mat to survive.
Figueiredo, 33, reset between rounds and landed a takedown early in the second, forcing Moreno to defend a guillotine attempt for much of the frame. Moreno fought back to his feet before securing his own takedown against the cage, however, and finished the round on top of Figueiredo.
Moreno, 27, carried that momentum into the third round, soon transitioning from a body-lock takedown into a rear naked choke and forcing Figueiredo to tap out.
In the wake of becoming Mexico’s first ever UFC champion, an emotional Moreno was congratulated by a respectful Figueiredo.
In the evening’s other feature bout, Leon Edwards defeated Nate Diaz via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) as the UFC turned a non-title fight, non-main event contest into a five-round meeting for the first time ever.
There was considered pressure from Edwards early on, with veteran Diaz (20-13) trying to lull the British welterweight into a false sense of security before springing occasional counters. As a largely uneventful first round neared its conclusion, Edwards took down Diaz and took his back after the Stockton native clinched ‘Rocky’ against the fence, though the pair ended the round standing.
While the first frame had been somewhat lacking in action, Edwards, 29, had been able to land a number of leg kicks, a tactic he continued in the second round before taking down Diaz against the fence again.
Edwards (19-3) did well to escape a leg lock attempt late in the round before the pattern of the fight continued in the third frame, the Briton again securing a takedown. This time, Edwards landed slicing elbows from on top, cutting open Diaz – a traditional sight in the 36-year-old’s bouts.
Referee Herb Dean briefly checked on Diaz, with Edwards then offering his opponent a touch of gloves, only to receive two middle fingers in response – a gesture the Birmingham fighter returned in kind.
Edwards at last began to find his punching range in the fourth round and landed a signature elbow early in the fifth, though Diaz rallied and almost stunned his opponent with a late finish after wobbling Edwards badly with a one-two.
Edwards made it to the final buzzer, however, emerging victorious via decision and extending his win streak to nine bouts, likely setting up a rematch with Kamaru Usman with the welterweight title on the line.
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