Israel Adesanya routs Marvin Vettori in rematch to retain UFC middleweight title

Daniel Cormier: Israel Adesanya is 'box-office' television (2:13)

Daniel Cormier explains to Stephen A. Smith why Israel Adesanya is must-watch television. (2:13)

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Israel Adesanya rotated his right hand and cupped it near his ear, a gesture that pro wrestling legend Hulk Hogan used to elicit cheers from the crowd. Marvin Vettori was desperately trying to take Adesanya down against the cage at the end of the fourth round.

Adesanya's taunt drew chatter from the fans, but it was more of a symbol. He was in full control of the bout.

"Vintage me," Adesanya said. "Having fun. I did have fun in there, I'll say that."

In a rematch of one of his toughest middleweight tests, Adesanya removed all prior doubt, beating Vettori via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) in the main event of UFC 263 on Saturday night at a sold-out Gila River Arena.

With the victory, Adesanya successfully defended his UFC middleweight title. He evaded most of Vettori's big swings and takedowns, chopped Vettori down with leg kicks and outboxed him with his hands.

Afterward, Adesanya said Vettori told him in the Octagon at the end of the bout that he believed he won.

"You can keep thinking that," Adesanya said he replied to Vettori in his postfight interview. "Whatever helps you sleep at night."

Adesanya said he dedicated the win to his late training partner and friend, Fau Vake, who died last month from injuries he suffered in an alleged assault.

On April 14, 2018, Adesanya defeated Vettori by split decision, a close fight that was one of Adesanya's most difficult en route to the title. Vettori believed he won that bout, which was the storyline coming into Saturday. Adesanya and Vettori were vicious in verbal attacks on Thursday at the prefight news conference, with Vettori having to be physically removed from the stage after he went after Adesanya.

"Even at the press conference when he stood up, I sat down because I didn't feel a threat," Adesanya said.

Vettori got a takedown early in the first round after he caught an Adesanya kick. That seemed to be a positive development for Vettori, who was looking to put Adesanya, a dominant kickboxer, on his back. But Adesanya was able to get up and continue working his tactical, varied offense of combinations and leg kicks.

Vettori took Adesanya down again in the third and briefly had his back, looking for a choke. But Adesanya swept and got into top position. Adesanya said he was able to grab Vettori by the neck at that point.

"I saw his soul leave his eyes," Adesanya said. "I said to him, 'You're scared, aren't you?' I felt very powerful in that moment, just taking his soul away."

In the fourth, Vettori got Adesanya to the canvas again, but Adesanya quickly swept to the top.

By the third round, Vettori's right leg seemed compromised, and he lost some of his explosion, which was clearly part of Adesanya's strategy. Adesanya was extremely hard to hit, and when Vettori did find him, Adesanya almost always fired back with a combination, a kick or both. Adesanya had a career-high 41 leg kicks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"Vettori is a tank, man," UFC president Dana White said in the postfight news conference. "The guy is so tough, durable. The amount of leg kicks he took tonight and never buckled, never limped. He was in there with a much better athlete tonight."

Adesanya has won 10 straight UFC middleweight fights, now the second-longest streak in division history behind Anderson Silva's 13. Adesanya's fifth title win is also second at middleweight to Silva's 11.

Adesanya outlanded Vettori 96-58 in significant strikes.

"I'm slowly starting to accept it as a great performance," Adesanya said, adding he would grade this a C-plus outing. "I wanted to punch him in the face more."

Adesanya came in ranked No. 3 on ESPN's pound-for-pound male MMA fighters list. At middleweight, Adesanya was No. 1, and Vettori, the hottest fighter in the division before Saturday night's fight, was No. 6.

Adesanya (21-1) picked up his third successful middleweight title defense. The Nigerian-born New Zealand resident is undefeated in the weight class. He became undisputed champion by knocking out Robert Whittaker in October 2019. Adesanya, 31, was coming off a loss to Jan Blachowicz in a UFC light heavyweight title fight at UFC 259 on March 6. In his previous middleweight title defense, Adesanya outclassed Paulo Costa, stopping him via second-round TKO at UFC 253 in September.

In his postfight interview, Adesanya said he wants a rematch with the streaking Whittaker in Auckland, New Zealand. Whittaker lives in Australia.

"You don't get to decide; I get to decide," Adesanya said. "Because I'm the motherf---ing king."

White said Adesanya told him earlier this week that he wanted to fight again in October. However, White said going to New Zealand seems unlikely due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"He hadn't even fought yet, and the kid is already talking about his next fight," White said. "I love that. Adesanya has become a very bad-ass champion for us. We'll figure out him and Whittaker ASAP."

Vettori (17-5-1) saw his five-fight winning streak snapped. Going into Saturday's fight, the Italy native had not lost since the first bout with Adesanya in April 2018. Vettori, 27, was coming off a unanimous decision win over Kevin Holland in April and was attempting to become the first Italian-born fighter to win a UFC title.