UFC 263: Can Adesanya Return to Form Against Vettori?

Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori, UFC 263 media day
Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori, UFC 263 press conference Credit: Alex Behunin/Cageside Press

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya will look to reestablish his dominance at 185 pounds as he looks to dispatch familiar foe Marvin Vettori at UFC 263.

The last time we saw UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, he was on the wrong side of a unanimous decision loss against light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz.  While not a total domination by any means, he looked remarkably vulnerable after appearing nearly unstoppable at times in matches against Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa.  Now with a blueprint to his demise fresh off the presses, there is the question of whether the throng of smaller middleweight contenders now have the information needed to finally take the belt from him.

Of course, that remains a monumental task.  Blachowicz carried a significant size advantage, and this is still the same Adesanya who triumphed over the likes of Whittaker, Costa, Derek Brunson, Kelvin Gastelum, and even Saturday’s title challenger Marvin Vettori.  Looking at the middleweight landscape, multiple foes in title contention are all opponents that Adesanya has already stopped in dominant fashion in the past.  If “The Last Stylebender” can deliver another highlight reel stoppage, his air of invincibility at 185 pounds would go a long way towards being restored.

“The Italian Dream” has been looking to right a wrong for three years, and despite the odds will finally get the chance to do so in the exact same place where it occurred the first time.  In 2018, the durable Marvin Vettori pushed the relative newcomer Adesanya to the limit in a bout that he ultimately lost by split decision.  The future champion went on to win the world title a year later while Vettori was left behind, seemingly relegated to being a mid-level contender who just happened to push the former champion earlier in his career.

Only, that is not what Vettori had in mind for himself.  He would go on to reel off five straight victories to take the slow route up the rankings.  In the last seven months, back-to-back wins over Jack Hermansson and short notice replacement Kevin Holland have propelled him into title contention.  After former champion Robert Whittaker elected to take more time to prepare for a title shot, Vettori was given the call to fight Adesanya as another championship fight was scheduled to the June pay-per-view.

To pull off the upset, Vettori must take chances to get his offense going early and often.  Though Adesanya prevailed in their last bout, Vettori is one of the few to find success in actually walking down the champion and getting him to the mat.  While both men have only looked more dominant since then, Vettori should look to throw with more volume and keep the threat of the takedown at the forefront of the champion’s mind.  For Adesanya, being able to counter Vettori and keep the fight at mid-range will be the key for him to utilize his elite striking to the fullest.

A win for Vettori would likely set up a rubber match in what would be a final battle for supremacy in late 2021/early 2022.  An Adesanya victory is expected to set up a rematch with former champion Whittaker who has reeled off three impressive victories over top contenders Darren Till, Jared Cannonier, and Kelvin Gastelum since losing to Adesanya in 2019.