GLENDALE, AZ — One dominant champion retained his belt. Another lost it in an unexpected blowout.
It was another fun night in MMA, as UFC 263 delivered plenty of storylines. Israel Adesanya looked terrific in his third title defense, a unanimous decision against Marvin Vettori. In the co-main, a potential new star was born in Brandon Moreno, who submitted Deiveson Figueiredo in the third round.
And although Nate Diaz failed to pull off an upset over Leon Edwards, he certainly came close in the waning seconds — and seemed to have fun doing it.
So, what’s ahead for the top six fighters on the card of UFC 263?
Israel Adesanya, middleweight (defeated Marvin Vettori by unanimous decision)
Who’s next: Robert Whittaker
Whittaker has been deserving of a rematch for a while, but things like timing and the fact Adesnya never seemed motivated by it have delayed it. There’s no delaying it now.
Whittaker has taken out everyone he needed to in order to secure a rematch and then some. And with how good he looked in his last fight against Kelvin Gastelum, there is real fan interest in seeing this matchup again.
UFC president Dana White has said it’s next. Whittaker will be ready to go later this year, if that timeframe suits Adesanya. This is the fight, very clearly.
Wild card: Darren Till
We’ll put this down as a wildcard, because we need a wildcard, but I don’t see this happening at all.
Till is very popular and Adesanya wants to fight him, it’s very obvious. But Whittaker just beat Till last July. This is Whittaker’s fight.
Marvin Vettori, middleweight (lost to Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision)
Who’s next: Paulo Costa
If the UFC can come to terms with Costa and get him to return amidst this recent contract dispute, this is the fight right here. Two of the angriest men in the middleweight division. Two guys who love to plod forward and win on pressure.
The buildup to this fight would be tremendous and I do believe it would deliver in the cage as well.
Wild card: Loser of Darren Till and Derek Brunson
That fight is likely to happen in September in London. Vettori facing the winner would make sense.
Vettori and Till were supposed to fight earlier this year, but Till withdrew with a broken collarbone. The two have gone back and forth on social media ever since, and if Brunson loses in London, he’ll still be ranked relatively high.
Brunson and Vettori have relied on their wrestling in recent fights, and actually developed styles that are kind of similar. Let’s find out which of them can execute it better.
Brandon Moreno, flyweight (defeated Deiveson Figueiredo by submission)
After defeating Deiveson Figueiredo via rear-naked choke to win the UFC flyweight championship, Brandon Moreno celebrates with his wife and daughter.
Who’s next: Askar Askarov
Not the most exciting name to move on to, coming off such a high profile bout — but there’s a storyline here. These two fought to a draw in September 2019. Make it about “Moreno cleans up the two draws of his UFC career. First Figueiredo, and now Askarov.”
The reality is there isn’t a super obvious, “big” fight for Moreno to move on to. So, don’t overthink it. Book him to a guy he didn’t lose to but couldn’t beat just two years ago. And give him a platform. Because I think Moreno can be a very popular champ, even if he’s fighting a lesser known opponent.
Wild card: Alexandre Pantoja, if he beats Brandon Royval on Aug. 21
If you don’t do the last man Moreno fought to a draw, do the last man to beat him. And that’s Pantoja. Pantoja beat Moreno via decision in 2018, and Moreno lost his spot on the UFC roster right after. It’s another good storyline and Pantoja would be very deserving if he gets by Royval.
Deiveson Figueiredo, flyweight (lost to Brandon Moreno by submission)
Who’s next: Cody Garbrandt
Garbrandt hasn’t made it clear he intends to drop to 125 pounds, but it feels like the obvious move, right? He’s fallen out of title contention at bantamweight, and could benefit from a fresh start at flyweight.
Garbrandt was actually supposed to fight Figueiredo for the title in November, but had to pull out due to medical issues. This would be a very high-profile fight for the division, and a barn burner stylistically.
Wild card: Askar Askarov
If Askarov doesn’t get a title shot against Moreno, give him the former champ. He is right there in the rankings, coming off a win over Joseph Benavidez in March. There’s not a ton of hype around his name, but he’s not going anywhere. He deserves a fight that makes sense.
And if he were to beat a guy like Figueiredo, it would only build his marketability in the event he does go on and fight for a title.
Leon Edwards, welterweight (defeated Nate Diaz by unanimous decision)
Leon Edwards dominates the early rounds and Nate Diaz attempts to come back with a big punch late, but Edwards ultimately comes away with the win.
Who’s next: Kamaru Usman
The UFC has a great problem on its hands, in that it has two very good, very legitimate options for the defending champion, Kamaru Usman. There’s Colby Covington. And there is Leon Edwards. Both are fantastic choices.
But sitting here right now, there is simply no way I can say that Edwards doesn’t deserve it more. It’s very clear to me. And the reason it’s clear is that the UFC tried to make Covington vs. Edwards multiple times, and it was Covington who had no interest. Now that’s fine, and I understand why he didn’t have any interest in Edwards, but if you turn down that fight you run the risk of Edwards passing you in the queue if he’s active and putting on good performances. That’s what has happened here.
Edwards’ resume gives him the nod over Covington as of today, in my opinion.
Wild card: Michael Chiesa
I could see a scenario in which Usman defends his title against Covington next, and Edwards just waits for the winner. That’s possible. Usman wants to be very active — and I imagine Covington wouldn’t mind fighting more frequently on a champion’s salary, if he were to pull the upset.
But regardless, in the event Edwards’ next fight is not for a championship, I think Chiesa as an opponent makes a lot of sense. Chiesa is on a five-fight win streak and in fact, the champ himself, Usman, has expressed interest in fighting him. So, if Edwards has to fight again before a title, this is the one for me.
Nate Diaz, welterweight (lost to Leon Edwards by unanimous decision)
Nate Diaz says he will be sharing the address to a post-fight party he is hosting after his loss to Leon Edwards.
Who’s next: Conor McGregor.
It’s time. If McGregor loses to Dustin Poirier on July 10, isn’t this the fight to make? In fact, it’s the one to close out the year. McGregor vs. Diaz 3, in a December pay-per-view in Las Vegas. Done. Makes perfect sense, again, if McGregor loses.
Who knows how many more fights either of them have. Do it now.
I want to at least mention Jorge Masvidal as another option, but to me that’s not the way to go. The UFC did that fight less than two years ago, and marketed it as the “BMF” bout. To book it again, after not much time has passed, and now both are coming off separate losses … I think, at least for now, that fight has lost some of its appeal. Timing just isn’t right for that rematch.
Wild card: Tony Ferguson
Man. I’m gonna just keep beating this drum until it’s literally not an option anymore. A fight between Diaz and Ferguson has made so much sense for such a long time. Stylistically, it’s a great fight. The way their personalities would clash — and the way their fan bases would clash. They both have developed a kind of cult following within the sport.
Neither of them really wants to cut to 155 pounds any more. They’re both on a losing streak, but a non-title fight between them would attract widespread appeal, it’s still a big fight, and who knows what that kind of win could set up for either of them?
Diaz has never really been interested in fighting Ferguson, but perhaps now is the time. It’s a fun, marketable fight that could catapult the winner into something big based on name recognition alone.