UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya cruised to victory over Marvin Vettori as he retained his undisputed 185-pound title in the main event of UFC 263 in Glendale, Arizona.
The pair had previously met, when Adesanya claimed a split-decision victory over Vettori in April 2018 in the Nigerian-born Kiwi’s second UFC bout.
But in Saturday night’s rematch Adesanya, 31, showed his class with a virtuoso performance as he picked apart the Italian over the full five-round championship duration at the Gila River Arena.
Vettori started the bout in aggressive fashion and landed an early takedown, but Adesanya soon settled into his work and dominated the striking exchanges, using repeated kicks to Vettori’s lead leg to punish the challenger from range.
Adesanya’s control of the bout caused plenty of consternation in Vettori’s corner between rounds, as coach Rafael Cordeiro implored his man to be more aggressive in his pursuit of the takedown.
But Vettori simply had no answer for the champion, who looked in complete control as he cruised to a shutout decision victory with all three judges scoring the bout 50-45 in Adesanya’s favour.
After the result was officially announced, Adesanya dedicated his victory to his teammate Fau Vake, a promising up-and-coming fighter who died in May from injuries sustained in an alleged attack in Auckland, New Zealand.
“I just want to say Fau Vake, Fau Vake, Fau Vake, I love you, man… This fight I dedicate to you, Fau,” he said.
Adesanya then said he wanted his next title defence to come against Australia’s former champion Robert Whittaker, but on the condition that the fight takes place in Adesanya’s hometown of Auckland after Adesanya dethroned Whittaker in Melbourne in their first meeting at UFC 243.
“We need to run that back in my territory this time,” he said.
Moreno claims historic title
In the night’s co-main event, Brandon Moreno completed a remarkable career turnaround as he captured the undisputed UFC flyweight title.
Moreno, 27, submitted reigning champion Deiveson Figueiredo via third-round rear-naked choke to capture the title at the second attempt and in the process become the first Mexican champion in UFC history.
Moreno started out as the 16th seed on the 24th season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2016 and was cut from the UFC roster in 2018.
But ‘The Assassin Baby’ battled his way back to the UFC in mid-2019 and climbed to the top of the flyweight division. His first shot at the gold came last December when he and Figueiredo, 33, produced one of the fights of the year in a bout that ended in a majority draw.
It demanded an immediate rematch, and Moreno produced the best performance of his UFC career to defeat Figueiredo and claim the undisputed 125-pound title.
Edwards survives Diaz scare to claim big win
It was a big night, too, for England’s Leon Edwards, who survived a last-gasp onslaught from Nate Diaz to earn a landslide decision victory on the scorecards in a special five-round welterweight feature bout and put himself in the frame for a shot at the UFC welterweight title.
Edwards, 29, looked calm and composed as he cruised through the first four rounds of the bout, but was in big trouble when Diaz connected with a huge straight left that had the Birmingham native on wobbly legs.
But, despite the 36-year-old pouring on the pressure, Edwards survived to earn scores of 49-46 on all three scorecards and extend his undefeated streak to 10 fights.
After the bout, Edwards paid tribute to the octagon veteran, telling UFC commentator Joe Rogan: “Nate’s a veteran, you know. I hit him with everything but the kitchen sink! So, fair play to Nate. I give my respect to him.
“I was caught by the back hand, straight through the guard, but it is what it is. I’m 29 years old, still learning, still growing, so I look forward to my title shot.”
When asked how hard Diaz hit him in that final round, Edwards laughed: “Hard enough to wobble me!
“I’ve been wobbled probably once in my career, so fair play to him, you know?
“It came right through the guard. I keep a wide guard and he came right through the middle with it, so fair play to Nate.”
Edwards’ victory puts him in prime position to challenge for the UFC welterweight title, with the current champion, Kamaru Usman, the last man to defeat the Brit from their first meeting back in 2015.
However, prior to fight night in Arizona, UFC president Dana White said former interim champion Colby Covington was the next man in line.
Craig claims stoppage victory
Scottish submission specialist Paul Craig extended his 100% finish rate as he claimed a TKO finish of fellow light heavyweight contender Jamahal Hill after the referee initially failed to spot that Craig had dislocated his opponent’s elbow during the bout.
Coatbridge’s Craig, 33, promised to test the jiu-jitsu of the previously undefeated Hill, 30, in the opening main card bout of the evening, and quickly dragged the action to the ground in search of a first-round submission.
Craig locked up Hill’s right arm then switched to the left arm as he secured a tight armbar. After Hill refused to tap to the submission hold, Craig’s pressure eventually dislocated the American’s arm as the crowd gasped in shock.
Remarkably, referee Al Guinee remained unaware of Hill’s injury as the American gamely tried to continue. But, after realising he’d broken his opponent’s arm, Craig switched his target and connected with a series of elbows to Hill’s head to eventually force the stoppage at the 1:59 mark in the first round.
“You either tap, nap or it snaps, and tonight it happened to snap,” Craig told UFC commentator Joe Rogan after his victory.
“One hell of an opponent there. Took those shots after his arm was broke. That’s tough.
“I felt it go. That’s why there was not much point putting any pressure on it. And that’s why I decided to keep elbowing.
“It’s the ref’s job to protect my opponent. My job’s to finish the fight.”
Brits lose out on the prelims
On the night’s preliminary card, England’s Darren Stewart lost out to American Eryk Anders in their light-heavyweight rematch.
The first meeting between the pair had ended in a controversial no contest after an illegal knee from Anders, 34, that left Stewart unable to continue was ruled accidental. But there was no such controversy in the rematch as the pair battled back and forth through a gruelling three-round battle in Arizona.
Despite facing a bigger man, Stewart, 30, nullified Anders’ takedown threat and punished the former college football player with knees to the body in the first round, but the American had the better of the exchanges against the fence in the second.
It set up a crucial final round and, after Stewart landed an initial takedown, Anders managed to reverse position and dominate the remainder of the round to secure a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27) on the scorecards.
Also on the preliminary card, Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood narrowly missed out on the scorecards after a back-and-forth battle with fellow women’s flyweight contender Lauren Murphy in their 125-pound bout.
Murphy, 37, edged the first round on two of the three scorecards, then claimed a dominant second round to earn the nod on two of the three scorecards to edge out 34-year-old Calderwood 29-28, 28-29, 29-28 after a spirited battle.