The UFC returns with their next pay-per-view at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. The card in paper is filled with a ton of action-packed fights including two title fight rematches in the Middleweight and Flyweight divisions. The card also includes the return of superstar, Nate Diaz, and plenty of other anticipated fights. Ethan Hartley and Frank Bartunek give their expert opinions and predictions on who will come out on top in the main card.
Ethan Hartley: 4-1
Frank Bartunek: 3-2
Paul Craig vs. Jamahal Hill
Jamahal Hill comes into this fight undefeated in his MMA career, with his one blemish being an overturned knockout victory. Hill is an exciting knockout artist, while Craig has proven to be a solid veteran in the UFC for 5 years now. Craig has not suffered defeat since 2 years ago this month and currently finds himself one spot ahead of Hill on the top 15 UFC Men’s Light Heavyweight rankings. Craig has finished all of his fights, but in the brief time that I have seen Hill, he seems to be just too explosive.
Official Prediction: Jamahal Hill wins
Frank’s Bet: Jamahal Hill to win by KO/TKO
Jamahal Hill is a rising undefeated prospect in a light heavyweight division that is mostly filled with established fighters other than one or two newcomers in the rankings. He’s entered himself into a crossroads battle against Paul Craig, an 11-fight UFC veteran. But Paul Craig is not one to mess with. He’s unbeaten in his last five fights and is only three years older than Hill. However, I’m going to buy into the Hill hype. His heavy hands are not one to mess with and he still has plenty of time to elevate his game. Paul Craig will certainly be a tough challenge and his toughest fight yet. However, I believe that as long as Hill can keep this fight on the feet, not giving an advantage to Craig’s submission game, then this could brew a solid win for Jamahal Hill.
Official Prediction: Jamahal Hill by KO/TKO
Demain Maia vs. Behal Muhammad
The first of two Welterweight fights at UFC 263 contains, dare I say, a UFC legend? Maia probably doesn’t cut it by just a little bit, but he certainly has had a great career. The 43-year-old is coming off a first-round knockout defeat, though, and even worse, it was over a year ago. Unfortunately for Maia, it doesn’t get any easier in this one. Muhammad comes into this fight with a chip on his shoulder after the eye poke suffered at the hands of one of the top UFC Welterweight fighters, Leon Edwards, back in March. Look, Maia is an all-time submission specialist. He always has a chance because of that history, but let’s face it. He’s very old, and he has to be rusty. On the other hand, we have a hungry Belal Muhammad. 2+2 will always = 4.
Official Prediction: Belal Muhammad wins
Frank’s Bet: Fight goes the distance: YES
Despite being 43 years old, Demain Maia has defied father time to prove he can still compete with the best of the best. While never winning the title, with only two appearances, Maia is a legend nonetheless with over 30 appearances in the UFC. Fast forward to 2021, Maia suffered only his second TKO loss to Gilbert Burns in his last fight which was over a year ago. On the other hand, Behal Muhammad has a clear chip on his shoulder after his opportunity to fight a top-ranked fighter was stripped due to an illegal eye poke from Leon Edwards back in March. I see Behal making a statement win to advance his career to a new level, which he has failed to do so in prior opportunities.
Official Prediction: Behal Muhammad by Unanimous decision
Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz
Diaz hasn’t fought since 2019, and he will be facing the 3rd ranked UFC Welterweight in Leon Edwards. Edwards has not lost since 2016 to some guy named Kamaru Usman. Ever heard of him? Yeah, exactly. This fight is the real deal. Diaz may not be in the top rankings, but he has a reputation that speaks for itself. Diaz has and can be beaten, but Edwards better bring his A+ game if he wants to do it. Edwards is so close to grasping a title fight, and he has to be hungry to prove himself after the eyepoke of Muhammad. Diaz is awesome and a really bad dude in the octagon, but Leon Edwards is just too good here.
Official Prediction: Leon Edwards wins
Frank’s Bet: Leon Edwards to win by KO/TKO
Nate Diaz is one of the biggest superstars in the sports of MMA, there is no doubt about that. His personality and the mentality of never backing down will be a staple to this sport forever. But when it comes to him as a fighter, it pains me to say that he is out of his prime. He’s 3-3 in his last six fights and he’s 1-1 in the last two years. Not to mention both of those fights came in 2019 and he hasn’t fought since his loss for the BMF Belt against Jorge Masvidal. Leon Edwards is in the prime of his career despite only fighting once in the last two years. You can tell from his one round against Behal Muhammad that octagon rust has not affected him. This win against Nate Diaz will and should put him next for a title shot over Colby Covington as his unbeaten streak will push to 10 with his last loss coming to Kamaru Usman in 2015.
Official Prediction: Leon Edwards by Unanimous Decision
Deiveson Figuerido vs. Brandon Morano
Our first championship bout comes in the Flyweight division. This is also a part 2 fight, with the last title fight between the fighters ending in a controversial draw. Figueiredo is a fantastic fighter, with his MMA record being 20-1-1. He has also finished his last 4 wins, with 3 submissions. With all of that said, he absolutely has a real, legit FIGHT on his hands. With a nickname like “The Assassin Baby,” Moreno is one of the most lethal fighters in the fight game today. I believe Figueiredo is the superior fighter, and he has been dominant. However, nobody is perfect. I think an upset may be on the horizon with this one. (Also there’s nothing like betting with + odds)
Official Prediction: #ANDNEW Brandon Moreno wins
Frank’s Bet: Brandon Moreno moneyline
This is easily the toughest fight to pick on this card. We all saw what happened back in December. It was an absolute brawl, but let’s not forget that Deiveson Figueiredo technically would have won if it wasn’t for the point deduction after his second kick to the crotch against Brandon Morano. I love both of these fighters, not only for their personalities but fight styles as well. I have to favor the champ with the history of how rematches like these go. Figueiredo is fully healthy and he isn’t cutting weight again for the second time in less than a month like in December. Cutting weight has been something that Figueiredo struggled with in the past due to his natural bigger size for a Flyweight and while he made weight for both cuts, not having this one be three weeks after is a huge advantage. I expect another finish by Figueiredo in this fight.
Official Prediction: Figueiredo by Submission
Israel Adesanya vs. Marvin Vettori
“THE MOMENT YOU’VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR………IIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTSSSS TIIIIIIIMMMMMMMEEEE!!!” It’s the main event. It’s the Middleweight Championship. It’s Israel Adesanya, who has one career MMA loss…and it wasn’t even in his own division. It’s Martin Vettori. He hasn’t lost since the last time he fought Adesanya, which was 6 fights ago, AND it was by split decision. Some say that Vettori has not earned this shot, but let’s face it, this fight NEEDS to happen just based on what went down the last time these two met in the octagon. This is such an interesting matchup to look at. Vettori will come out of the gates aggressive in my mind. He could possibly use the game plan that Jon Blachowicz used against Adesanya, which a lot of people have been mentioning, but that won’t work here. He does not have the size advantage that plagued Adesanya in his last fight. Vettori is a great fighter that will put up a fight here, and obviously, anything can happen, but Israel Adesanya was 20-0 for a reason before he took that out-of-division fight.
Official Prediction: #ANDSTILL Israel Adesanya wins
Frank’s Bets: Under 4.5 rounds
Adesanya to win by KO/TKO
After coming off his loss against Jan Blachowicz, Israel Adesanya now moves back down 185 to defend his title for the third time. He faces Marvin Vettori, best known for his wrestling, for the second time in his MMA career. The narrative fits best that the first fight ended in a split decision and Vettori hasn’t lost since that fight. The problem with Vettori, while he has very convincing wins, the talent of the fighters isn’t out of this world. He has an upset win over Jack Hermansson but then won against a fill-in that was Kevin Holland. I think his lack of experience against a top contender will serve as a disadvantage. However, I think this fight will go the distance as Vettori has never been finished in his MMA career. But Vettori will be Adesanya’s toughest match yet in the middleweight division. Israel Adesanya is one of my favorite fighters on the planet. His best bet to win on Saturday is to keep the fight on the feet and defend the takedowns. His quickness and precision will be trouble for Vettori to handle.
Official Prediction: Adesanya by Unanimous Decision