UFC 263 was a night of clear answers to a lot of questions. Israel Adesanya had a much easier time in his rematch against Marvin Vettori, and added to his legacy as middleweight champion. So has he done everything he has to do to prove his greatness in the division, or does another rematch -- against Robert Whittaker -- carry high stakes for Adesanya's legacy?
On the other end of the spectrum, Brandon Moreno's time as UFC flyweight champion has just begun. His performance against Deiveson Figueiredo was perhaps the most shocking of the night in Glendale, Arizona, and the ceiling seems high for the 27-year-old, who is the youngest active champion in the UFC. So should a trilogy fight be next, or should Moreno and Figueiredo each go off on their own and pick up a few wins before fighting a third time?
Despite 24 minutes of domination for Leon Edwards against Nate Diaz, more people are talking about Diaz and his late push toward a come-from-behind win after Saturday night. Does that mean Saturday's victory was a net loss for Edwards, despite its being the biggest win of his career?
And among the title fights and show stealers on the main card, most of what Paul Craig did in his win over Jamahal Hill fell by the wayside outside of what appeared to be a gruesome-looking arm injury to Hill. UFC president Dana White said after the card that Hill's arm wasn't broken, but it was dislocated and popped back into place and he had full range of motion. So how big was the win for Craig and his hopes of climbing the ranks at light heavyweight?
Our panel of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim breaks down some of the biggest questions coming out of UFC 263 to get to the bottom of what's real, and what's not.
Israel Adesanya doesn't have anything left to prove at middleweight
Edwards victorious in thriller vs. Diaz
Leon Edwards dominates the early rounds, and Nate Diaz attempts to rally with a big punch late, but Edwards ultimately comes away with the win.
Raimondi: Adesanya is one of the most unique and compelling champions in UFC history. When it comes to his trajectory from prospect to contender to UFC champion, few have done it like him.
Adesanya earned his third successful UFC title defense Saturday night, via unanimous decision, beating Vettori comprehensively. That bout was a rematch of a 2018 fight that Adesanya won by split decision. Now, another rematch seems to be on the horizon as Adesanya is likely to defend next against Whittaker, the man Adesanya knocked out to become undisputed champion in October 2019.
On the surface, it sure looks like Adesanya has cleared out the division already. Look at the UFC rankings, Adesanya has beaten the top three contenders at 185 pounds: Whittaker, Paulo Costa and Vettori (twice). To be honest, none of those fights was even all that competitive. Extend that look at the rankings to the top five and Adesanya has beaten four of them (Derek Brunson is ranked No. 5). Jared Cannonier at No. 4 is the only member of that group Adesanya has not fought, and Cannonier is coming off a loss to Whittaker.
Normally, putting all these things together would mean maybe it is time for Adesanya to move up and try his hand at light heavyweight. But he already has done that. Just three months ago, Adesanya challenged for the 205-pound title at UFC 259 and lost to Jan Blachowicz. A rematch would not make sense at this juncture and probably not for quite a while. That's why I'm going to say "not real" for this statement.
There are some things Adesanya still has to prove at middleweight -- even if it's simply a matter of leaving absolutely no doubt that he is among the best middleweight fighters in MMA history. Adesanya now has 10 straight 185-pound wins. The record holder in that department is Anderson Silva, who won 13 in a row in that division.
Silva is one of Adesanya's MMA idols, and he surely would love to be in the same conversation as the man who held the middleweight title for seven years.
I'd be surprised if Adesanya does not move up to light heavyweight again at some point, whether for a title fight or a big-money bout against someone like Jon Jones. But continuing to dominate his division and taking on all comers is nothing to be bummed about.
And guess what? Whittaker has won three straight against top guys in the division since that Adesanya loss. There are many people who could be sold on the fact that Whittaker is better than ever and won't make the same mistakes in a second fight. As he did versus Vettori, Adesanya will get the chance to answer any lingering questions emphatically.
The UFC should book Moreno vs. Figueiredo 3 right away
Helwani: Not real.
Truth be told, I wouldn't care one bit if they ran this one back right away. The first two fights were fantastic. But I think it would behoove both men to have a little separation after back-to-back fights against one another. There are plenty of fresh opponents for both men to fight next. Then, if all goes well, they will meet again with both riding a wave of momentum -- and perhaps it would take only one more win.
Remember, Figueiredo did the UFC a solid by taking the first Moreno fight just three weeks after his title defense against Alex Perez. So, here's hoping the UFC is willing to return the favor soon by not having Figueiredo fight too many times before getting a crack at regaining his belt.
More importantly, for now, the UFC needs to figure out how to book a Moreno fight in Mexico as soon as possible, or if the ongoing pandemic precludes that, a fight in a market with a strong Hispanic fan base like the one on Saturday night in Phoenix. The UFC has been starving for a Mexican-born champion for years, and now it has one -- and he's charismatic and entertaining, too.
In his first opportunity against a truly big name, Edwards failed to capitalize
Okamoto: Not real. There's temptation to say otherwise. Edwards did almost lose in the final minute. That was a legitimate scare. And he did fail to jump Colby Covington in line for a title shot -- which, had the night gone perfectly, he might have done. But at the end of the day, UFC 263 was a really good night for Edwards.
Edwards hasn't become an overnight fan-favorite superstar for his performance, but the win over Diaz should fix a problem he has had for several years. Nobody has wanted to fight him. It never offered enough upside. Covington wasn't interested in fighting Edwards because ultimately, he never had to. The fighters at the top of this division have been allowed to ignore Leon Edwards for a long time, but I don't think they can anymore.
Between the nine-fight win streak, the signature win over a name like Diaz and the fact he really did dominate that fight despite nearly losing it at the end, the biggest names in the division can't ignore him anymore.
For a guy who has been ignored now for years, that's mission accomplished for Edwards.
Paul Craig's victory over Jamahal Hill isn't getting enough appreciation
Wagenheim: All through Saturday evening, I couldn't wait for UFC 263 to get to its main card. It wasn't just the two heated title bouts at the top of the marquee, or even the return of the one-of-a-kind Nate Diaz.
Every fan was excited for those fights, and of course I was, too. But I was no less jazzed for perhaps the final UFC performance of 43-year-old Demian Maia, the most sublime grappler ever in MMA. On that front, I won't dwell here on those scratch-my-eyes-out-levels of hard to watch over 15 minutes. I mean, 1-for-21 on takedowns? It was a sad night for an all-time great.
But luckily for the grappling fanboy in me, the opening bout of the main card gave me what I tuned in for -- and maybe a little more than we all collectively asked for. Paul Craig put on a mat clinic against previously unbeaten Jamahal Hill, who learned a lesson about the danger of following your hubris into a battle you're not likely to win. I'll say real, because Craig has lined himself up for a pretty big fight his next time out.
Hill is a slick, powerful striker who had a big advantage on the feet. Yet when Craig put his cards on the table early on by pulling guard, Hill didn't fight his way back to standing. Instead, he opted to test his grappling, and in less than two minutes Craig left Hill with his first career defeat and a grotesque-looking injury to his left arm. (And thanks, referee Al Guinee, for taking your time before waving off the bout, so we'd have an extra-long window of time to watch the arm cruelly flapping back and forth while Hill was unable to defend himself from hits to the face. Ugh.)
Craig is unbeaten in his past five fights, with three straight wins. Despite not getting credited with a submission win against Hill (the UFC is recognizing it as a knockout), his five submission wins are still tied for the second most of all time in UFC light heavyweight history, one behind Glover Teixeira's six.
Craig had a victory worthy of the $50,000 performance-of-the-night bonus he received. Brandon Moreno then came along in the co-main event and spun a masterpiece to become men's flyweight champ -- and Moreno did it by submission while earning the other bonus for performance of the night. Maybe it wasn't such a bad night for grappling after all.