Rematches were the theme of the title fights at UFC 263 on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona. Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya faced Marvin Vettori, looking for a more definitive victory than the split decision he won in their first fight in 2018. Deiveson Figueiredo aimed to prove that a trip to the hospital before the night of their first flyweight title fight was the only reason why Brandon Moreno came close to beating him before both fighters settled for a majority draw.
Adesanya was successful, earning a clear, decisive victory over Vettori to focus the spotlight on his dominance at 185 pounds. His attack on Vettori's lead leg and takedown defense kept him one step ahead of his opponent.
The other champion wasn't so lucky. Figueiredo lost to Moreno in a brilliant performance for the new Mexican flyweight champion. Sure, Nate Diaz's late rally against Leon Edwards had the arena buzzing, but it was Moreno's victory that brought the emotions in the building to a new level. In the Octagon with his family and his new UFC championship, Moreno, with tears in his eyes, poured his heart out, and a new star in the sport was born.
Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Brett Okamoto react to the top two fights at UFC 263.
Moreno is the perfect champion to put Mexico on the MMA map
Raimondi: Moreno is now the first-ever Mexican-born UFC champion, and the promotion could not have asked for a better one. He's incredibly likeable, has a unique charisma and an underdog spirit that one cannot help but root for.
I was surprised with the reactions Moreno, who is relatively new to the spotlight, was getting this week in Phoenix. But the city, which has a large Mexican-American population, quickly embraced him. He was getting cheers at the news conference and weigh-ins at a level that was not far off from much more established stars such as Diaz and Adesanya. And by winning at UFC 263 and becoming champion, he seems well positioned to become a viable headliner in the Southwest and California.
More importantly, this is a huge deal for the UFC in Mexico. Moreno is from Tijuana, and his Entram gym there is in a boom period since he started to have success in the Octagon. Him being champion should only take that to the next level. Mexico is still a boxing country -- and it likely always will be -- but it's also a country with people who love and appreciate combat sports. "Mexican style" is a real thing, and Moreno embodies that. He never stops coming forward and he's a finisher. He showed that against the very dangerous Figueiredo on Saturday night.
Moreno has all the ingredients -- from fighting style to personality -- to be the UFC's first Mexican-born superstar. Cain Velasquez was a massive deal in Mexico, even though he was born in the United States. I've been with Velasquez in Mexico City, and he can't walk around there without people flocking to him for photos or autographs. That's what the future could look like for Moreno, perhaps even bigger. And by young Mexican athletes seeing what he has done, more could choose MMA over boxing. The possibilities are endless, and the UFC has to be incredibly excited about what the future could hold in that key market.
Moreno's game plan executed to perfection
Wagenheim: The narrative coming out of the first meeting between Moreno and Figueiredo was that the draw came about only because of a foul by the champion, that Figueiredo would have won the December bout if not for losing a point to a third-round low blow. One judge even scored the fight for the Brazilian fighter despite the point deduction.
So maybe Moreno had something to prove on Saturday to the masses, but he sure didn't look like he needed to prove something to himself. He fought with confidence right from the start.
It wasn't just the mental game, though, that made Moreno a champ. He displayed skills and tenacity in both the standup and the grappling that kept him a step ahead of Figueiredo. That started to show fairly early in the fight, as Moreno's aggression put the champ on the defensive. And when a Moreno jab sent Figueiredo to the canvas late in the first round, the challenger was in control. By the time the horn sounded, Moreno had a 25-7 edge in significant strikes.
Moreno still had work to do. Figueiredo showed urgency starting Round 2, and Moreno didn't flinch. The challenger got taken down and twice was threatened by the champ's ironclad guillotine choke. But Moreno not only defended the submission, he also reversed position and started working toward a tapout try of his own. As the round wore on, it became evident that Moreno had an answer to whatever Figueiredo was throwing at him, and the confidence he started the night with only grew. He was putting on a near-perfect performance.
The final act in the masterpiece was Moreno's relentless pursuit of a finish in Round 3, which showed a champion's gritty heart. And it earned him a champion's belt.
Israel Adesanya looks so untouchable at middleweight, he actually needed Robert Whittaker to do what he has done
Okamoto: For the majority of the past two years, it looked like Whittaker would be a thorn in Adesanya's side, in that a rematch between them wasn't that appealing. But at the same time, Whittaker kept beating guys who could be a new challenge for Adesanya. He beat Darren Till, whom Adesanya wanted to fight. He beat Jared Cannonier, whom Adesanya wanted to fight.
After he beat Kelvin Gastelum in April, the narrative changed. It no longer feels like Whittaker is knocking off possible fights for Adesanya. It feels like he is the fight for Adesanya. And Adesanya needs that, because he's dominating 185 pounds right now. That back-and-forth affair with Gastelum in 2019 feels like a long time ago. As of late, he has cruised against Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa and now Marvin Vettori. He's in need of a matchup that will truly test him at this weight class, and whether it proves to be true, the feeling is Whittaker can do that.