You can argue that this is the perfect time to fight Israel Adesanya, if such a thing is possible.
The middleweight champion fell short in his ambitious move to light-heavyweight, losing to Jan Blachowicz and the golden undefeated glow he wore has dulled somewhat.
Adesanya, for all his wizardry on the feet, was unable to deliver a deadly blow or even deal much effective damage, and was battered on the ground in the later rounds.
Israel Adesanya returns to middleweight to defend his title against Marvin Vettori (right)
Vettori has won his last five, including a dominant win over Kevin Holland last time
Adesanya was well beaten in his step to light-heavyweight against Jan Blachowicz
So back to the drawing board and back to middleweight for ‘The Last Stylebender’.
One of the reasons Adesanya made the jump to a division for a chance to become “champ champ” was that the 185-pound challenges on the ground seemed flimsy.
He had feuded with Briton Darren Till, but the Liverpool fan favorite has been savagely injured with an injury and will have to wait a while for his shot.
He had defeated Robert Whittaker, sent Paulo Costa, and sent Yoel Romero to Bellator.
So Marvin Vettori gets his chance. The Italian is the obvious top contender, having won five and also has history with Adesanya, insisting that he win their first fight (the judges ruled in favor of his opponent by split decision).
Vettori, 27, far outperformed many other alleged rivals against Adesanya and is confident he won that first meeting.
The ‘Italian Dream’ was never finished and is a lasting contender for the champion
Adesanya has never been beaten at middleweight, but lost at light-heavyweight in March
He landed 46 out of 154 significant strikes, compared to his opponent’s 57 out of 123, and also delivered two successful takedowns in the 2018 matchup.
Both men have developed significantly since then, but it is clear Vettori is still smoking at the decision.
Last week, he told the UFC, “He’s going to see. I’m going to settle the score once and for all, and I’m going to show the world who the best middleweight there is.”
Adesanya replied, ‘Let it go! I’m going to finish the job. The last time you had hope because some stupid judge gave you that damn fight when everyone else knows you lost that fight.
“This time I’m going to take care of it. You’re going to look at me and realize it’s over. This is it. You can’t beat me.’
“He’s like that crazy ex-girlfriend who dumps you and won’t leave you alone, who keeps stalking you, scratching your car, coming into your workplace, harassing you, trying to get your attention in every way possible,” added the champion.
“I’m your fucking nightmare, buddy!” Vettori interrupted. “I’ll be there all your life!”
Vettori isn’t particularly flashy, doesn’t possess the kind of dominant wrestling that Kamaru Usman or Khabib have displayed and on paper Adesanya should win, but the Trentino-born fighter has a solid submission game and was never finished.
This time Adesanya has five laps instead of three to stop his man and take the result out of the judges’ hands.
Vettori will have watched the Blachowicz fight for any chinks in Adesanya’s armor and been encouraged.
Dana White spoke about how close the first meeting was between Adesanya and Vettori
If he manages to spend a significant amount of time in top position on the ground, this seems like the most likely way he will disrupt the odds and get revenge.
But Adesanya has fought wrestlers of greater lineage than Vettori before, particularly Romero, although that fight was painfully dull.
The Nigerian-born New Zealander is incredibly adept at distance fighting and his timing is among the best in the UFC.
Adesanya says he knows exactly what Vettori will do, plodding forward, throwing rudimentary jabs and looking for a takedown.
When that prophecy was presented to the Italian, he replied: ‘He proves that I am exactly right in the way he thinks, and I think it is wonderful that he thinks so.
Adesanya enters UFC 263 as the favorite and has the more eye-catching skills
‘Yes, yes, you’re right. My footwork is not working. I’m just gonna wrestle you, buddy. I’m going to hold on to a leg and pull you down and eventually tear you apart. That’s ultimately what I’m going to do.’
The motivation factor can be important here. Endless champions have said it’s much easier to be the one chasing a title than the guy with a target on his back.
Adesanya has already reached the top of the mountain, defended his title and, crucially, defeated Vettori before, is his drive to win really the same?
There’s no evidence to suggest it, but if Vettori is looking for crumbs of comfort, that could be one of them.
UFC president Dana White has insisted that Robert Whittaker will be next in line for the winner and downplayed the significance of Adesanya’s light-heavyweight defeat.
Adesanya last defeated Vettori in 2018 in a fight the Italian is still contesting
He told TSN, “We can’t underestimate how hard it is to move up a weight class. When you go up a weight class in this sport, it’s not like you go up a pound or two, these guys go up a big weight. It’s very hard to do and you can’t judge this fight by his last fight.
“If you look at the first fight (Adesanya and Vettori) it was a very, very close fight; neither is the same fighter, they both got better.
‘I expect an absolute war on Saturday evening, I’m looking forward to this fight.’
The UFC 263 headliner tops off a stellar card with Nate Diaz taking on Leon Edwards in a five-round no-title co-main event.
We’ll soon find out whether it’s the perfect time for a shot at Adesanya, or whether an injured champion is a more dangerous prospect.