It’s been over two years since the UFC was in Arizona, but that drought ends on Saturday, June 15 when the Octagon heads to the Gila River Arena in Glendale for UFC 263. Headlining the championship doubleheader is middleweight king Israel Adesanya, who comes back down to 185 pounds to take on Marvin Vettori after a failed bid to become light heavyweight champ. In the co-main event, flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo once again goes toe-to-toe with Brandon Moreno, six months removed from their instant classic at UFC 256.
As if two title fights wasn’t enough to entice you, there’s a five-round welterweight bout between Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz, initially scheduled for last month’s UFC 262 but postponed to this very stacked card. Before fight night arrives in the desert, let’s look at some of the UFC 263 competitors who are primed for big wins and high scores for your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups.
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Deiveson Figueiredo ($9,100) vs. Brandon Moreno ($7,100) - Men’s Flyweights
Figueiredo is not just the UFC flyweight champion, he is also one of the most entertaining fighters on the entire roster. His rise to the throne included twice beating Joseph Benavidez — one was non-title after he missed weight, one was a lopsided second-round stoppage to win the vacant belt — then he successfully defended his crown with a quick guillotine of Alex Perez. Figueiredo took on Moreno just three weeks after beating Perez and engaged in an absolute slobberknocker of a majority draw at UFC 256. Moreno is unbeaten in his last six, and some may recall he was cut from the UFC after a pair of losses to Alexandre Pantoja and Sergio Pettis, but ‘The Assassin Baby’ has roared back in a big way since his Octagon return. The three wins that netted him a title shot and subsequent rematch were decisions over Kai Kara-France and Jussier Formiga, followed by a TKO of Brandon Royval.
There is something to be said about the fact that both men took that first fight on very short notice. With a full camp, the adjustments made will be fascinating to watch. Moreno’s wrestling will be a key factor here since that’s one way to stem the whirlwind of punishing offense from Figueiredo. On the flip side, Figueiredo may be a little more economical with his strike selection to avoid totally gassing himself out or leave himself exposed to shots from Moreno. Ultimately, I still believe Figueiredo’s firepower and heavy body work will prove pivotal in this one. It’ll be another war, but Figueiredo will get the better of Moreno in the rematch to keep the belt.
Number of note: 269. Figueiredo and Moreno combined for 269 significant strikes landed in their first meeting, with Figueiredo connecting on 137 to Moreno’s 132 — career-highs for both men. Look for a sustained body attack from Figueiredo in this one.
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Leon Edwards ($9,500) vs. Nate Diaz ($6,700) - Welterweights
‘Rocky’ Edwards has somehow flown under the radar despite winning eight in a row before his eye poke no contest vs. Belal Muhammad in March. He has taken apart Donald Cerrone, Gunnar Nelson and Rafael dos Anjos in more recent times but had some bout cancellations due to COVID-19, and that prevented him from fighting at all in 2020. Diaz hasn’t fought since a cut-stoppage TKO loss to Jorge Masvidal for the BMF belt back in 2019. A few months before facing Masvidal, he got a decision win over Anthony Pettis to mark his first appearance since his 2016 fights against Conor McGregor. Ever the fan favorite, the former lightweight title challenger has wins over Donald Cerrone, Jim Miller, Michael Johnson and many others in typically entertaining fashion.
As popular as Diaz may be, and as tough as he is to put away, he’s really outmatched against Edwards. His in-cage antics are unlikely to goad Edwards into doing something stupid, and Edwards is the more skilled all-around MMA fighter. Edwards has a good jab, solid low and body kicks, improved wrestling and Diaz’s defensive vulnerabilities and slow footwork are going to be huge liabilities against Edwards. The only concern I have is Edwards cardio compared to Diaz’s in the later rounds, but it’s not like the latter hasn’t been dominated late in fights before. I see Edwards upping his aggression and getting what may not be his best win in terms of ranking but certainly his highest-profile triumph.
Number of note: 9. Just because Diaz has rarely been knocked out doesn’t mean you can’t drop him. He has been knocked down nine times in his UFC and WEC stints put together, including twice by Masvidal. Edwards isn’t known for his power, but he does have four knockdowns and two KOs/TKOs inside the Octagon.
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Belal Muhammad ($9,000) vs. Demian Maia ($7,200) - Welterweights
Muhammad has been one of the more consistent yet underrated fighters at 170 pounds. Unfortunately, ‘Remember the Name’ had a night to forget against Leon Edwards, whose brutal eye pokes led to a no contest ending in their March main event. Prior to that, Muhammad had notched wins over the likes of Randy Brown, Tim Means and Dhiego Lima as part of an 8-1 stretch. He’ll be opposite legendary former title challenger Demian Maia, whose career is winding down at the age of 43. The dangerous jiu-jitsu standout hasn’t fought since a TKO loss to Gilbert Burns in March 2020. His long list of notable opponents submitted in his UFC career include Chael Sonnen, Nate Quarry, Rick Story, Carlos Condit and Ben Askren.
This is a bad matchup for Maia at this stage of his career. He does have underrated wrestling, but Muhammad has outstanding takedown defense. The striking advantage is clearly in Muhammad’s favor, too. Muhammad also loves to pressure and has a tireless work rate that is likely to wear Maia down as the fight progresses. Muhammad gets the win in what may or may not be Maia’s swan song.
Number of note: 85. Muhammad’s career takedown defense percentage through 13 UFC fights is 85%. Only Geoff Neal, Alan Jouban and Vicente Luque have taken him down, and their control time has been very limited. It only takes one for Demian Maia to get to work with his grappling, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
Brad Riddell ($7,700) vs. Drew Dober ($8,500) - Lightweights
A teammate of Israel Adesanya at City Kickboxing, Riddell is looking to improve his UFC record to 4-0 on Saturday and notch his biggest win to date. The veteran kickboxer has taken decisions over Jamie Mullarkey, Magomed Mustafaev and Alex da Silva, all of whom were very much looking to wrestle him. Dober, who trains with Justin Gaethje in Denver, is coming off an arm triangle choke loss to rising contender Islam Makhachev, halting his impressive winning run against Polo Reyes, Nasrat Haqparast and Alex Hernandez. His background may be in wrestling, but he’s very much someone who is eager to throw down.
This should be a delight for fans to watch and a Fight of the Night contender. As mentioned earlier, Riddell has been focused heavily on stopping takedowns. Unless Dober changes things up, he’s unlikely to use a wrestling-heavy game plan. I think Dober will start faster and attack Riddell’s legs often, but the latter will land the cleaner, more effective shots over the remainder of the contest to pick up the victory.
Number of note: 6. It’s been six fights since Dober last attempted a takedown. Dober was a willing wrestler in some of his early UFC appearances, but his takedown success rate is just 17% through 16 fights.
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