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Hot Tweets: UFC 263, Israel Adesanya, Nate Diaz, and what comes next

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Well, it’s here. UFC 263 is finally upon us and normally an event like this would be the biggest one of the summer. That’s not quite the case here as we still have a Conor McGregor bout in the offing next month but still, two title fights plus the return of Nate Diaz makes for a pretty big deal. So let’s chat all about UFC 263 and what to expect tonight, and in the aftermath.

UFC 263

No, but at least on paper it’s certainly not bad. Two title fights plus a history-making third five-round fight is a very good top-end for a card, especially when you have Israel Adesanya and Nate Diaz involved in those bouts. Add in a rematch of last year’s Fight of the Year runner-up and you have the makings of a pretty great main card. Plus, the build to those bouts is by no means lackluster either, with Demian Maia’s possible retirement fight and soon to be Jamahal Hill’s breakout performance rounding out your main card.

Then on the prelims you’ve got Drew Dober vs. Brad Riddell which is going to be great and a handful of other important bouts, including a women’s flyweight number one contender bout between Lauren Murphy and Joann Calderwood. This cherry on top for all this is that there is a high likelihood that many of these fights end in a finish as well, so for sure, UFC 263 is very strong.

That being said, how soon we forget things in this sport because just a few months ago we got UFC 259, which featured three title fights and four UFC champions, plus a bunch of other really good, really important fighters. 259 may not have quite lived up to its enormous expectations (in part because the outcomes weren’t what people wanted/expected with the DQ win for Aljamain Sterling and Jan Blachowicz upsetting Adesanya) but on paper that card was spectacular and even in practice, it delivered more than people think.

Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori

Your main event tonight is a middleweight rematch between current champion Israel Adesanya and third-ranked contender Marvin Vettori. So to answer the question up front, no, this isn’t some gifted title shot to re-shine Adesanya’s star. Adesanya has already beaten both men ranked above Vettori, and though it’s obvious that Robert Whittaker is the man most deserving of a second shot at Adesanya, the timelines didn’t match up. Even still, Vettori is a legitimate challenger and this is far from a softball for Adesanya.

During their respective rises up the UFC ranks, Vettori gave Adesanya his toughest fight (until Kelvin Gastelum) and Vettori has only gotten better since then. Now Vettori gets to face an Adesanya who is no longer unbeaten/unbeatable and that sort of aura of invincibility and the loss of it has been known to upend careers in combat sports. We have yet to see how Adesanya will handle it. I suspect he will be just fine but maybe not. Maybe Vettori, who already felt he gave Adesanya hell when he was still very raw, looked at the Blachowicz fight and now feels certain he can beat Adesanya. Talk to any fighter and they will tell you that the outcome of fights is largely determined in the six inches between the ears. That adds an interesting wrinkle to this rematch.

That being said, Adesanya is probably going to win this fight and he’s probably going to do so spectacularly. Though Vettori has undoubtedly improved, so too has Adesanya, and for as much as Blachowicz revealed there are holes to exploit in Adesanya’s game, it doesn’t seem like Vettori really has the requisite skills to do so. Sure, you may look at Vettori and say that his game is oddly reminiscent of Blachowicz’s - hard-nosed, well-roundedness - but even if that’s true, Vettori lacks two key factors that made that style work for Blachowicz: size and power.

Adesanya was tentative on the feet against Blachowicz because of the Legendary Polish Power coming back at him, and as the fight wore on, Blachowicz was then able to secure takedowns and use his size advantage to keep Adesanya down. Vettori has neither of those things going for him and so I suspect that instead what we will see happen is Vettori try to push a pace on Adesanya and get countered into oblivion by the much more sophisticated striker. Still though, Vettori deserves his day in court to prove me wrong.

What if Vettori wins though?

If Vettori wins, it would be pretty terrible for the UFC. Adesanya has been tapped as the next big star, for good reason, and a loss to Vettori would not only put him on a two-fight skid, it would also obliterate the aura Adesanya has built up. Losing to Blachowicz is easy to explain - Adesanya is just too small for light heavyweight - but losing to Vettori who is mostly unheralded and who (as evidenced by the above question) some people think is a setup fight for Adesanya, well, that would be bad.

Not for Vettori of course. If he wins, not only does he become the UFC’s first Italian champion (a pretty cool thing) but he also is basically guaranteed a lucrative trilogy fight with Adesanya, this time collecting PPV points. Sure, it’s possible the UFC would opt to go with a Robert Whittaker fight instead but unless Vettori absolutely blows the bricks off Adesanya, I don’t see it. I think they give Adesanya the chance to reclaim the title immediately so they can “correct” the error that a Vettori win would represent and cash in on what at that point would be a pretty marketable rivalry.

Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno

Of course. I think there are at least three active flyweights I would pick to beat him, they just don’t currently compete for the UFC.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: I love Figgy Smalls. He is delightful and unique and violent as all get out. He was Fighter of the Year last year for a reason. But he is by no means the best flyweight in the world. Demetrious Johnson, Henry Cejudo, and Kyoji Horiguchi would all most likely beat him up should they ever square up against one another. Hell, depending on how you feel about ONE’s weight classes, Adriano Moraes would also have a fair shot at upending the current UFC champion. Fortunately for Figueiredo, none of those people currently fight in the UFC, and it seems unlikely any of them will again (save, perhaps, Cejudo, though should he return it would probably be at 135).

As far as the current crop of UFC contenders, I would favor Figgy Smalls to work them all but I wouldn’t bet the house on it and that is part of the majesty of Figueiredo. For as good as his ceiling is, he also sometimes just forgets how to fight. Brandon Moreno is scrappy and durable and a fun fighter, but he really shouldn’t be able to compete with Figgy and yet the champ ended up going to a draw with him because there were stretches in that fight where he simply stopped doing the things he’s good at. It’s truly baffling to watch Figueiredo take minutes/rounds off at a time but because of that, it also makes his fights even more dramatic. On any given day, he might just lose the title due to brain fart.

Still, I wouldn’t bet on it, at least not for now. Flyweight is still in the process of getting its feet back underneath it from when the UFC tried to slowly kill it in broad daylight though, so in a year or two the tune may change and there may be a crop of contenders who could give Figgy hell, even without him helping them out.

Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz

LOL. As if this is a question. If Nate Diaz upsets Leon Edwards tonight, I GUARANTEE that he gets the next welterweight title shot. Kamaru Usman just rematched Jorge Masvidal for the transparent reason of “I want to get paid and this is an easy fight” and you think he’s going to pass up an even bigger payday and even easier fight to do Colby Covington a favor? You must be outside your mind.

I know, I know, Dana White said that Colby is getting the next shot. Well, Dana says a lot of things and only about half of them are true, even less when he’s talking about Colby Covington. Despite their political alignment, Dana White pretty clearly doesn’t care for Colby Covington and there is roughly a zero percent chance he’s going to go to the mat for Covington when there is a 1 million PPV buy layup in front of him in the form of Usman-Diaz. Especially when his champion, the one they have now begun pushing the “GOAT” narrative about, has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to reward Covington’s inactivity and will campaign aggressively to fight Diaz over.

I’ll do you one better though. Diaz isn’t the only one who gets a title shot with a win tonight, Leon Edwards does as well. Hell, why do you think the UFC put this fight together in the first place? It’s to get Diaz a title shot or boost Edwards enough to get him one. Usman has continuously praised Edwards’ winning streak (now broken by the no-contest) and remarked that he deserves a title shot, but in the minds of the UFC, the one key impediment to giving him one is that not a person alive (beyond his family members) gives a single s*** about Leon Edwards. It’s hard to give someone a title shot when they don’t move the needle at all and there isn’t even an uprising of hardcore fans demanding that the UFC adhere to some semblance of meritocracy. A win over Nate Diaz (which is by far the most likely outcome), and one good turn on the post-fight mic, should give Edwards enough juice to get a title shot.

The last ride of Demian Maia

Good? No. A chance? Sure. Maia is one of the five best MMA grapplers ever, with a case for the top spot (though in my opinion that unequivocally belongs to Khabib). Skills like that means he always has a chance, even if he’s 43 years old and clearly not as durable as he once was (which, again, not like he had a legendary chin in the first place).

The dynamics of this bout are the same as every Demian Maia fight: if he can get takedowns, he probably wins this fight, if he can’t, he won’t. The problem is, Belal Muhammad has proven quite good at defending takedowns and unlike Maia, he appears to just now be entering his prime. That doesn’t portend great things for one of the nicest dudes in the sport but such is the way of MMA. The young eat the old and our heroes get put out to pasture in violent and depressing ways. It’s the squared-circle of life.

Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least tacitly related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Get weird with it. Let’s have fun.

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