UFC 263 BIG FIGHT PREVIEW: Israel Adesanya vs Marvin Vettori

You can make a case for this being the perfect time to fight Israel Adesanya, if such a thing is possible. 

The middleweight champion fell short in his ambitious step up to light-heavyweight, losing against Jan Blachowicz and the golden unbeaten glow he carried has dulled slightly. 

Adesanya, for all his wizardry on the feet, was unable to land a killer blow or even do much effective damage, and found himself manhandled on the ground in the later rounds. 

Israel Adesanya will defend his middleweight belt

Marvin Vettori is out for revenge after losing last time

Marvin Vettori is out for revenge after losing last time

Israel Adesanya returns to middleweight to defend his title against Marvin Vettori (right)

Vettori has won his last five, including a dominant victory over Kevin Holland last time out

Vettori has won his last five, including a dominant victory over Kevin Holland last time out

Vettori has won his last five, including a dominant victory over Kevin Holland last time out

Adesanya was well beaten in his step up to light-heavyweight against Jan Blachowicz

Adesanya was well beaten in his step up to light-heavyweight against Jan Blachowicz

Adesanya was well beaten in his step up to light-heavyweight against Jan Blachowicz 

So back to the drawing board and back down to middleweight for ‘The Last Stylebender’. 

One of the reasons Adesanya made the leap up a division for a shot at becoming a ‘champ champ’ was that the challenges at 185-pounds looked thin on the ground. 

He had talked up a fight with Britain’s Darren Till but the Liverpool fan favourite has been cruelly struck down by injury and will have to wait a while longer for his shot. 

He’d beaten Robert Whittaker, dispatched Paulo Costa and sent Yoel Romero off to Bellator. 

So Marvin Vettori will have his chance. The Italian is the obvious top contender having won five on the spin and also has history with Adesanya, insisting he won their first fight (the judges ruled in favour of his opponent by split decision). 

Vettori, 27, fared far better than many more fancied rivals against Adesanya and firmly believes he won that first encounter. 

The 'Italian Dream' has never been finished and is a durable contender for the champion

The 'Italian Dream' has never been finished and is a durable contender for the champion

The ‘Italian Dream’ has never been finished and is a durable contender for the champion 

Adesanya has never been beaten at middleweight but lost at light-heavyweight in March

Adesanya has never been beaten at middleweight but lost at light-heavyweight in March

Adesanya has never been beaten at middleweight but lost at light-heavyweight in March 

He landed 46 of 154 significant strikes, compared to his opponent’s 57 of 123 and also secured two successful takedowns back in the 2018 match-up. 

Both men have developed significantly since then but clearly Vettori still fumes at the decision. 

Last week he told the UFC: ‘He’s going to see. I’m going to settle the score once and for all, and I’m going to show the world who’s the best middleweight around.’

Adesanya replied: ‘Let it go! I’m gonna finish the job. Last time you had hope because one dumb judge gave you that f*****g fight, when everyone else knows that you lost that fight. 

‘This time I’m going to make sure. You’re going to look at me and gonna realize it’s over. This is it. You can’t beat me.’ 

‘He’s like that crazy ex-girlfriend that you dump and won’t leave you alone, that’ll keep stalking you, scratching your car, come in to your workplace, harassing you, trying to get your attention in every way,’ the champion added.

‘I’m your f*****g nightmare, buddy!’ Vettori interjected. ‘I’ll be there for your whole life!’ 

Vettori is not especially flashy, does not possess the kind of dominant wrestling the likes of Kamaru Usman or Khabib have exhibited and on paper, Adesanya should win, but the Trentino-born fighter has a solid submission game and has never been finished. 

This time around, Adesanya will have five rounds rather than three to stop his man and take the result out of the judges’ hands. 

Vettori will have watched the Blachowicz fight looking for any chinks in the armour of Adesanya and been encouraged. 

Dana White spoke about how close the first encounter was between Adesanya and Vettori

Dana White spoke about how close the first encounter was between Adesanya and Vettori

Dana White spoke about how close the first encounter was between Adesanya and Vettori 

If he manages to spend a significant amount of time in top position on the ground, it seems the most likely way he’ll upset the odds and exact revenge. 

But Adesanya has fought wrestlers of greater pedigree than Vettori before, notably Romero, although that fight was painfully dull. 

The Nigerian-born New Zealander is incredibly adept at fighting at range and his timing is among the best in the UFC.  

Adesanya says he knows exactly what Vettori will do, plod forward, throw rudimentary jabs and look for a takedown.  

When that prediction was put to the Italian, he retorted: ‘He’s proving me exactly right with the way that he’s thinking, and I love it that he’s thinking that way.

Adesanya enters UFC 263 as the favourite and possesses the more eye-catching skills

Adesanya enters UFC 263 as the favourite and possesses the more eye-catching skills

Adesanya enters UFC 263 as the favourite and possesses the more eye-catching skills 

‘Yes, yes, you’re right. My footwork doesn’t work. I’m just going to wrestle you, buddy. I’m going to hang on to a leg and take you down and eventually tear you up. That’s eventually what I’m going to do.’

The motivation factor could be important here. Endless champions have spoken about how it is far easier to be the one hunting a title than the man with a target on his back. 

Adesanya has already reached the top of the mountain, defended his belt and crucially, beaten Vettori before, is his drive to win now really the same now?

There’s no evidence to suggest it but if Vettori is looking for crumbs of comfort, that might be one of them. 

UFC president Dana White has insisted that Robert Whittaker will be next in line for the winner and downplayed the significance of Adesanya’s defeat at light-heavyweight. 

Adesanya beat Vettori last time out in 2018 in a fight the Italian still disputes

Adesanya beat Vettori last time out in 2018 in a fight the Italian still disputes

Adesanya beat Vettori last time out in 2018 in a fight the Italian still disputes 

He told TSN: ‘We can’t underestimate how hard it is to move up a weight class. When you move up a weight class in this sport it’s not like moving up one or two pounds, these guys move up big weight. It’s very hard to do and you can’t judge this fight on his last fight.

‘If you look at the first fight (Adesanya and Vettori) it was a very, very close fight; neither one of them are the same fighter, they’ve both gotten better. 

‘I expect an absolute war on Saturday night, I’m excited about this fight.’

The UFC 263 headliner tops off a superb card with Nate Diaz taking on Leon Edwards in a five-round non-title co-main event. 

We’ll soon find out if now is the perfect time for a shot at Adesanya, or if a wounded champion is a more dangerous prospect altogether. 

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