Adesanya puts UFC belt on the line in rematch with Vettori
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Marvin Vettori walked to the center of the octagon expecting to have his arm raised. It wasn’t.
Israel Adesanya won the fight in a split decision, yet wasn’t satisfied. The fight was far closer than he expected.
The two middleweights had since been hoping for a rematch and will get it Saturday night at UFC 263, back in the desert three years later.
This time, Adesanya’s championship belt will be on the line.
“I’m here to get revenge from that first fight, whatever it was, and become the first Italian UFC champion,” Vettori said during a heated news conference this week.
Adesanya (20-1) and Vettori (17-4-1) won’t be the only rematch with a title on the line at Gila River Arena.
Flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo will put his belt on the line against No. 1 contender Brandon Moreno in a rematch of a draw at UFC 256 in December. The main card also will include No. 3 welterweight Leon Edwards against fan favorite Nate Diaz, welterweights Demian Maia against Belal Muhammad, and light heavyweights Paul Craig and Jamahal Hill.
Adesanya and Vettori last fought in 2018 in a non-title fight in Glendale. Adesanya was considered an up-and-comer in the division but had his hands full with the heavy-handed Vettori.
Known as a puncher, Vettori surprised Adesanya with his wrestling adeptness, muscling him around the mat when he took the Nigerian freestyle fighter down.
Adesanya did most of his work, as he usually does, with agility, kicks and strikes to win the split decision.
Adesanya won the interim middleweight title with a unanimous decision over Kelvin Gastelum and took the title unification bout with a second-round knockout of Robert Whittaker in late 2019.
He won two more fights before losing a unanimous decision to Jan Blachowicz while trying to add the light heavyweight title at UFC 259.
Now Adesanya gets another shot at Vettori.
The Italian has won five straight matches, including a unanimous decision over Kevin Holland in April.
The rematch figures to be just as entertaining as the original. The build-up to the fight sure was.
“This time we won’t need the judges,” Adesanya said in front of a rowdy crowd at Thursday’s news conference.
The second title fight figures to be just as testy.
Figueiredo (20-1) and Moreno (18-5-2) have plenty of animosity between them, exacerbated by a draw at UFC 256 in Las Vegas that left neither fighter feeling satisfied.
The two flyweights have traded barbs leading into Saturday’s co-main event.
“He talks a lot and I’m going to shut him up by knocking him out in the first round,” Figueiredo said.
Figueiredo won the flyweight belt with a second-round submission of Joseph Benavidez in Abu Dhabi last July. The Brazilian fighter defended his title with a first-round guillotine choke against Alex Perez at UFC 255, then fought Moreno three weeks later.
Moreno also fought on short notice in a hastily arranged fight after the UFC 256 main card was decimated by injuries and COVID-related bout cancellations.
Figueiredo spent the night before the fight in the hospital with an undisclosed ailment, yet had enough energy to trade blows with Moreno in a thrilling title fight. Figueiredo was docked a point in the third round for a low blow, but won in a majority draw to retain his belt, denying Moreno a chance to become the first Mexican-born UFC champion.
“I was very honest with myself in what I think about the fight,” Moreno said. “The guy tried to knock me out in the first round then he tried to make excuses. It’s fine. This Saturday night is the real deal.”
Diaz had plenty of support, particularly from Mexican-American fans, at the news conference, but Edwards is the favorite among oddsmakers.
Edwards (18-3-0) has won eight straight matches since losing by decision to current champion Kamaru Usman and is looking to build his resume against Diaz to hopefully earn a shot at the title.
“Nate Diaz has this reputation and all of the hype and that’s actually good for me,” he said. “Everybody will be watching and when I do what I do, people are going to want me to be the one (to get a title shot).”
Diaz (21-12) beat Conor McGregor with a submission in 2016 and took an extended break after losing a decision to McGregor in the rematch a month later. Diaz lost to Jorge Masvidal in a third-round doctor-stoppage TKO in his last fight in 2019.
“I’m pumped to fight a worthy opponent and that’s what I’m here for,” he said. “I’m coming to win.”
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By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer