Barring any unforeseen screwiness, two divisions will see at least some clarity at the top following UFC 283 this Saturday.
For the light heavyweight championship main event, the result answers a straightforward question: Who holds the UFC title at 205 pounds? That’s not the same thing as who is the UFC’s best at 205 pounds (Jiri Prochazka, get well soon), but either Glover Teixeira or Jamahal Hill will etch their names in the promotion’s history books with a win as Teixeira looks to become an unlikely two-time champion at the age of 43 and Hill looks to become a first-time champion after being on the fringes of the title picture just two months ago.
With Prochazka out for the foreseeable future, and the recent Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev title fight failing to settle anything, the vacant light heavyweight strap now travels to Rio de Janeiro in the hopes of finding an owner. Expect the Brazilian fans to roar when Teixeira fights in his home country for the first time since 2015 and possibly tear down the Jeunesse Arena in a fit of sheer ecstasy should he become champion again.
The co-main event might not stoke the same emotions, but it won’t be for lack of history or the talents involved. Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno have done everything in their power to insure that their rivalry will never be forgotten and their fourth fight has the potential to be the best yet. Some fans might be sick of seeing the same two guys fight for the flyweight belt with several worthy contenders waiting in the wings, but if this continues to be an annual tradition (the two have fought for the title in 2020, 2021, and 2022) then you can sign me up for another decade of the Figueiredo-Moreno Cup.
In other main card action, top title contenders look to make a statement at welterweight and flyweight as Gilbert Burns fights Neil Magny, and Lauren Murphy fights Jessica Andrade, plus Paul Craig battles Johnny Walker in a light heavyweight bout to open the pay-per-view.
What: UFC 283
Where: Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro.
When: Saturday, Jan. 21. The card begins with a six-fight early prelims portion on ESPN+ at 5:30 p.m. ET, with continuing coverage of the four-fight prelim card on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN+ beginning at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Glover Teixeira (2) vs. Jamahal Hill (10)
My brain is telling me that Glover Teixeira outclasses Jamahal Hill in every department and sometimes it’s best to just not overthink things.
Yes, there’s certainly a world where the considerably younger Hill comes out guns-a-blazing and starches Teixeira. It happened once before when Anthony Johnson scored a stunning 13-second knockout of Teixeira and while Hill isn’t nearly as highly regarded a puncher as the late “Rumble,” he’s shown a deft finishing touch. According to Draft Kings, Hill is actually a slight favorite to beat the former UFC champion, so clearly there’s public confidence in him.
But I can’t pick against Teixeira in a matchup where he has such a huge experience advantage, particularly when it comes to championship-level fights, not to mention his elite grappling. It just so happens that Hill isn’t the best at stopping takedowns and even if he’s been drilling wrestling defense since the day that this matchup was announced, it still won’t be enough. Teixiera’s old man strength won’t be denied.
Besides, if this stays on the feet, it’s not like Teixeira is a sitting duck up there. He’s stood and traded punches with the best of them, which is to say legends who are far more accomplished than Hill. Talent and hard work can take you a long way and Hill deserves credit for making it this far, it’s just not his time yet.
Teixeira by submission.
Deiveson Figueiredo (2) vs. Brandon Moreno (3)
At this point, Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno know everything there is to know about each other, so now it’s just time to do the damn thing.
It’s useless to dissect the technical aspects of this matchup in an attempt to predict the winner because we’ve seen how evenly matched these two are: Figueiredo has the edge in power, Moreno the edge in speed and volume. Both are high-level grapplers, both have great finishing instincts, and both have sturdy chins and deep gas tanks. These are two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, as you might have heard.
Honestly, if you ran this back 100 times, I doubt either man would win the series by more than a handful of fights. Like, 53-47 at best. We’ve seen Figueiredo outpoint Moreno only to be foiled on the cards by a point deduction, we’ve seen Moreno run through Figueiredo, and we’ve seen Figueiredo win a close one. In all likelihood, these two spend another 25 quality minutes inside the octagon, but you could talk me into either fighter finding an early finish too. Anything is possible, which is why this feud has been so magical.
To avoid flipping a coin, I’ll stick to this rule: I don’t believe Figueiredo can beat Moreno twice in a row, and vise-a-versa, so in my hypothetical best-of-infinity series they are destined to trade wins until the end of time. And it’s Moreno’s turn.
Gilbert Burns (5) vs. Neil Magny
No matter what happens Saturday night, Neil Magny has put together a Hall of Fame-worthy resume. His win over Daniel Rodriguez moved him past Georges St-Pierre for the most UFC wins by a welterweight (20), he’s beaten names like Robbie Lawler, Carlos Condit, Johny Hendricks, and Hector Lombard, and he hasn’t lost two fights in a row since 2013. Plus, the company loves him, and that always helps when it comes to deciding who gets to walk through those Hall of Fame doors.
His Achilles heel has always been his grappling defense and while he’s shown constant improvement, it hasn’t been enough for him to get over the hump against the division’s best submission experts. There’s no shame in getting tapped by Shavkat Rakhmonov, Rafael dos Anjos, and Demian Maia, because they’re the cream of the crop when it comes to dangerous ground games. You can put Gilbert Burns on that list as well.
Don’t let Burns’ heavy hands fool you, he’ll still go to what brought him to the dance when he needs to. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert gave Stephen Thompson zero chance to get his offense going and it’s difficult to imagine Magny faring any better. Even taking into account Magny’s trademark adaptability, there isn’t much he can do if Burns decides to impose his will on the mat.
Burns by submission.
Lauren Murphy (6) vs. Jessica Andrade (2)
You can never count out Lauren Murphy, one of the toughest, grittiest, damn-near-impossible-to-finish fighters on the entire roster. That said, I think Jessica Andrade has the juice to end this one before the bell.
One problem with being known for your durability is that the compliment usually comes from people seeing you get hit, which is something Murphy is willing to do if it means landing her own shots. That’s not going to fly against Andrade. You have to assume that Murphy will fight with more caution than usual against “Bate Estaca,” but it won’t be easy for her to control the distance while still doing enough to actually win the fight.
Andrade will welcome Murphy to come forward and when she does, she’ll punish her fellow contender with her trademark haymakers. The smaller Andrade will have a hard time keeping Murphy off of her though, so if Murphy and her team have a plan to wear Andrade down and take her into deep waters in the third, it could pay off.
That’s a big if when you’re dealing with an all-time great finisher like Andrade, who I’m picking to win by knockout.
Paul Craig (14) vs. Johnny Walker
Don’t sleep on Paul Craig being one of the biggest winners of the night.
Several pieces need to fall into place for Craig’s best case scenario to happen, but if they do, we could be seeing him challenge for UFC gold before the end of the year. First, he has to get past Johnny Walker, then Jamahal Hill has to knock off Glover Teixeira in the main event. Neither of those are small feats and Jiri Prochazka would have to remain out of the picture, but if all of that plays out then Craig would deserve to be Hill’s first challenger, having finished him in the first round just 19 months ago. Keep in mind, Craig is also the only man to defeat Magomed Ankalaev.
It’s possible, is all I’m saying.
I like him to beat Walker too as the charismatic Brazilian has just been too inconsistent for my liking. At his best, Walker still inspires hope that he could be a serious threat to the best in the division (he doesn’t turn 31 until March); at his worst, he’s a drag to watch and can frustrate fans as much as his opponents with his lack of output and puzzling strategic choices.
Walker is a great athlete with deficiencies in his takedown defense, so the first round will tell us a lot about how the fight plays out. An early Craig takedown should set the tone for the Scotsman to find success and a submission, but if Walker can stuff a few attempts, it changes the whole complexion of the matchup.
Trust Craig to impose his will in this one and wrestle his way to a victory.