GLENDALE, Ariz. — Israel Adesanya rotated his right hand and cupped it near his ear, a gesture pro wrestling legend Hulk Hogan used to use to elicit cheers from the crowd. Marvin Vettori was desperately trying to take Adesanya down against the cage at the end of the fourth round.
Adesanya’s taunt drew chatter from the fans, but it was more of a symbol. He was in full control of the bout.
In a rematch of one of Adesanya’s toughest middleweight tests, Adesanya removed all prior doubt, beating Vettori via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) in the main event of UFC 263 on Saturday night at a sold-out Gila River Arena.
who died last month from injuries he suffered in an alleged assault.
On April 14, 2018, Adesanya defeated Vettori by split decision, a close fight that was one of Adesanya’s most difficult en route to the title. Vettori believed he won that bout, which was the storyline coming into Saturday. Adesanya and Vettori were vicious in verbal attacks Thursday at the prefight news conference, with Vettori having to be physically removed from the stage after he went after Adesanya.
“Even at the press conference when he stood up, I sat down because I didn’t feel a threat,” Adesanya said.
Vettori got a takedown early in the first round after he caught an Adesanya kick. That seemed to be a positive development for Vettori, who was looking to put Adesanya, a dominant kickboxer, on his back. But Adesanya was able to get up and continue working his tactical, varied offense of combinations and leg kicks.
Vettori took Adesanya down again in the third and briefly had his back, looking for a choke. But Adesanya swept and got into top position. In the fourth, Vettori got Adesanya to the canvas again, but Adesanya quickly swept to the top.
By the third round, Vettori’s right leg seemed compromised and he lost some of his explosion, which was clearly part of Adesanya’s strategy. Adesanya was extremely hard to hit, and when Vettori did find him, Adesanya almost always fired back with a combination or a kick. Or both. Adesanya had a career-high 41 leg kicks, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Adesanya has won 10 straight UFC middleweight fights, now the second-longest streak in division history behind Anderson Silva’s 13. His fifth title win is also second at middleweight to Silva’s 11. Adesanya outlanded Vettori, 96-58, in significant strikes.
Adesanya came in ranked No. 3 on ESPN’s pound-for-pound male MMA fighters list. At middleweight, Adesanya was No. 1 and Vettori, the hottest fighter in the division before Saturday night’s fight, was No. 6.
Adesanya (21-1) picked up his third successful middleweight title defense. The Nigerian-born New Zealand resident is undefeated in the weight class. He became undisputed champion by knockout out Robert Whittaker in October 2019. Adesanya, 31, was coming off a loss to Blachowicz in a UFC light heavyweight title fight at UFC 259 on March 6. In his last middleweight title defense, Adesanya outclassed Costa, stopping him via second-round TKO at UFC 253 last September.
In his postfight interview, Adesanya said he wants a rematch with the streaking Whittaker in Auckland, New Zealand. Whittaker lives in Australia.
“You don’t get to decide — I get to decide,” Adesanya said. “Because I’m the mother f—ing king, b—-!”
Vettori (17-5-1) saw his five-fight winning streak snapped. Coming into Saturday’s fight, the Italy native had not lost since the first bout with Adesanya in April 2018. Vettori, 27, was coming off a unanimous-decision win over Kevin Holland in April. He was attempting to become the first Italian-born fighter to win a UFC title.