UFC 263 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

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    UFC 263 goes down this Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, and the event stands out as one of the best of the year so far.

    The card will be topped by a middleweight title fight between champion Israel Adesanya, who will be looking to get back on track after suffering the first loss of his MMA career against Jan Blachowicz, and challenger Marvin Vettori, who will look to make good on his first UFC title shot. The bout will be a rematch of a 2018 fight that Adesanya won by split decision.

    UFC 263 will be co-headlined by a flyweight title rematch between all-action champion Deiveson Figueiredo and previously unheralded challenger Brandon Moreno, who battled to a draw in one of the best fights of 2020.

    As if those two title fights weren’t enough to get fans excited, the UFC 263 main card will also feature a high-stakes welterweight clash between No. 3 contender Leon Edwards and fan favorite Nate Diaz, a second welterweight fight between Belal Muhammad and Demian Maia, and a clash of ranked light heavyweight contenders as Paul Craig takes on Jamahal Hill.

    Keep scrolling to see how the B/R combat sports squad sees these five UFC 263 main card fights unfolding.

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    Tom Taylor: In his recent loss to Jan Blachowicz, Israel Adesanya was taken down three times and controlled for more than seven minutes. That, to me, suggests that his defensive wrestling might not be as good as his 82 percent takedown defense rate suggests.

    Still, I think his defensive wrestling should be good enough to thwart the attempts of Vettori who, while no slouch on the ground, is no D1 wrestler either. If that’s how things shake out, the Italian challenger is in for a long night of being picked apart on the feet.

    Adesanya by unanimous decision

    Scott Harris: There’s a flipside to Tom’s stats, and that’s that Vettori only hits 53 percent of his takedown attempts. This guy doesn’t have “world-class wrestling,” as much as that might create a strong narrative. I think Adesanya does Adesanya things and snipes down an opponent who’s out of his depth.

    Adesanya by TKO, Rd. 2

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: I went into the Blachowicz fight thinking Adesanya couldn’t, or at least wouldn’t, be beaten. But now he’s been proven human I’ve gone completely off the deep end in the other direction.

    In my mind, Vettori gets things to the ground often enough to offset whatever margin the champ has on the feet. Wouldn’t surprise me if Adesanya blew him away quickly. But if he doesn’t, it’s a grinding upset.

    Vettori by split decision

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Tom Taylor: Figueiredo and Moreno’s first fight probably would have earned 2020’s Fight of the Year honors had Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk not gone to war nine months earlier. Their second fight should be plenty of fun too—but also more decisive. The champion Figueiredo strikes me as the kind of guy to make the required adjustments in the gym and flaunt the resulting improvements in the cage. The judges’ job will be easy this time around. 

    Figueiredo by unanimous decision 

    Scott Harris: As of Wednesday, Figueiredo is a substantial -230 favorite to handle Moreno, per DraftKings. Their first fight was a war, but I don’t think lightning will strike twice for Moreno against the more well-rounded champ. The size discrepancy also will work in Figueiredo’s favor. Also recall that the champ was legitimately sick for the first bout, and that’s enough evidence to stave off the upset talk.

    Figueiredo by TKO, Rd. 2

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: I’m with Tom on this one. The first fight was terrific, and I’d be thrilled if Part II was even moderately as entertaining. But Moreno was closer to his ceiling the first time, and Figueiredo has more room to improve and make it even more decisive in the rematch.

    Figueiredo by KO, Rd. 3

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    Tom Taylor: I’ll come right out and say it: Leon Edwards is going to dominate Nate Diaz. The Brit, who holds the No. 3 spot in the welterweight rankings and hasn’t been beaten in nine fights, has every advantage with the exception of submissions.

    Look for Edwards to cudgel Diaz on the feet, pepper in effortless-looking takedowns as needed and, ultimately, force the referee’s hand.

    Edwards by TKO, Rd. 4.

    Scott Harris: I fully agree with Tom here. The bloom is off the Diaz rose, and this is the fight that will expose that to the masses. Edwards will control Diaz on the mat as needed. Diaz, never a power puncher, will eat shots throughout. Edwards will finally get that big step up he’s been longing for.

    Edwards by unanimous decision

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: If I had a couple bucks to toss away on a bet, I’d probably throw them Diaz’s direction on a +400 whimsy. But beyond that sort of flyer possibility, this looks like an open-and-shut case for Edwards.

    Diaz is a great name to have on a resume, and if you are what you say you are—the No. 3 man at 170 pounds—you win this.

    Edwards by KO, Round 3

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    Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

    Tom Taylor: This one all comes down to how much age has caught up with Demian Maia. If he’s even a husk of the man he once was, there’s a good chance he’ll be able to pull Muhammad to the mat and lock up a limb or a neck.

    That said, it’s hard to pick against father time. In the year 2021, Maia’s takedowns are probably slow enough that Muhammad can stop them. That opens the door for Muhammad to light his Brazilian rival up on the feet, probably en route to his 14th decision victory in 22 fights.

    Muhammad by unanimous decision

    Scott Harris: Muhammad is on a roll by and large, with that grisly no-contest eye poke the only thing between him and a five-fight win streak. Maia’s here to put him over on a pay-per-view card. I just don’t see Maia having the physical prowess any more to take backs the way he once did. He’s still kicking along at age 43, but this is a bridge too far.

    Muhammad by unanimous decision

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: There’s a reason 43-year-olds don’t win a lot of titles in combat sports.

    No disrespect to Maia, he’s had a brilliant career, but fighting a young, talented fighter who’s won eight of his last nine fights is too big of an ask. Unless Muhammad gets sloppy and gets caught, he wins this one going away.

    Muhammad by unanimous decision

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    Tom Taylor: Jamahal Hill is a rightful favorite in this fight, but Paul Craig is too good at snatching victory from the jaws of defeat for me to pick against him against anybody but the very best. 

    The Scotsman might spend the vast majority of this fight getting the tar beat out of him, but at some point—whether it’s because of a takedown or because he got dropped—the fight will hit the mat, and when it does, he’ll lock up another unlikely choke.

    Craig by submission, Rd. 3 

    Scott Harris: Craig is one of the more charismatic members of the light heavyweight division, but he can’t seem to get over the hump of elite competitors. Good thing for him, then, that headhunter Jamahal Hill isn’t at that level just yet. Sound the upset alarms and pencil in a submission for the rugged Scotsman.

    Craig by submission, Rd. 2

    Lyle Fitzsimmons: On a card chock full of upset possibilities, this one is among my favorites.

    Jamahal Hall is on a credible run and he’s obviously had some memorable results, but Craig is a tough guy with a high-revving motor that won’t stop until 15 minutes are complete.

    And, like Tom, I think he finds a crack at some point and gets Hill into a bind he can’t escape.

    Craig by submission, Rd. 2

    Stats from UFCStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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