UFC 263: Liddell, Krause, and Palmer answer burning questions for Israel Adesanya versus Marvin Vettori

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Credit: Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports

The middleweight championship fight of Israel Adesanya versus Marvin Vettori at UFC 263 is one of the marquee bouts in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s middleweight division in 2021. It’s a talent-rich scrap with both combatants having clear avenues towards victory. And since this is a rematch there is also history between these heated rivals.

To get an idea of how this fight may turn out, we sought out elite minds in the mixed martial arts game to get some answers on important questions heading into this title fight. We spoke with UFC hall-of-famer, and former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell. Two-time Professional Fighters League featherweight champion Lance Palmer. As well as active UFC vet and fast-rising head coach James Krause. The trio offered up an in-depth perspective on this clash of 185-pound superstars.

Which matters more for Vettori to get the upset, the video from the first fight or Adesanya’s loss to Blachowicz?

Being a rematch, it would seem that the first fight and it’s video would be worthwhile viewing in preparation for the second go around. Although Krause would not go as far as saying it’s worthless, the video from their first encounter is not the tape he believes Vettori should be viewing if he wants to be the man to hand Adesanya only his second L.

“It’s one of those things where I think their first fight is not going to matter as much, but you still have to go back and watch it,” Krause told MixedMartialArts.com. “I’ve said this before, you can’t go back and watch the game, you’ve got to go back and watch plays. Exchanges, small things that work well. and try to exploit those plays again.”

“The tape that I would be watching if I’m Marvin Vettori is the Jan Blachowicz fight [against Adesanya]. I know it’s a different weight class, but he beat him. If I’m Vettori that’s what I’m watching, the plays [in that fight]. I do think Vettori is going to bring a good fight. I think he’s a lot better than what people give him credit for. I think he’s expanded on his wrestling since their first go-around.”

With 26 professional fights under his belt, Palmer has had opponents with losses and videos to go and look back at for a blueprint to victory. However, he admits it is easier said than done to follow the exact strategy of someone else. Since fighters, like snowflakes, all have their little differences. Yet, that doesn’t mean he can’t take that Blachowicz outline and adjust it for own his skillset.

“Even if someone has a similar style as you, everybody has a little bit different timing, body movement, [and] awareness. You can use some things. Maybe the way they set up the shot. If he’s going back and looking at things Jan did really well,” Palmer told MixedMartialArts.com.

“You have to remember Jan’s a giant compared to 185ers. A lot of the things he did, even if he bullied him strength-wise, that’s something Marvin’s not going to be able to do as well. There’s always going to be ways to tweak certain things to make it work for you to try and emulate the same attack.”

Is wrestling Vettori’s best chance of winning, and how?

In MMA great Liddell’s mind, the only way Vettori will even up this series at 1-1 is to take the Nigerian–by way of New Zealand–down, and early. He believes “The Last Stylebender” is just too talented a striker, and “The Italian Dream” has not evolved enough in that department since April 2014 to offer Adesanya a more difficult striking puzzle to solve.

“I actually went back and re-watched their first fight, and [Vettori’s] really going to have to get out there and take him down more. Because he can’t stand there and strike with him. If he stands out there and strikes with him I think this time he gets knocked out,” Liddell told MixedMartialArts.com. “Take him down before he gets tired. He took him down a few times in the third round but he was tired.”

“In that last fight [against Blachowicz] it just seemed to me like [Adesanya] doesn’t have a lot in his toolbox to get off his back. I’d love to show him a few things, but it just looked like he didn’t know what to do down there. It’s one thing if he was trying to work to get up and he was stopped, but it felt to me like he didn’t know what to work for to get up.”

Israel Adesanya versus Marvin Vettori
Apr 14, 2018; Glendale, AZ, USA; Israel Adesanya (red gloves) fights against Marvin Vettori (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A possible game plan Vettori’s team may be to employ a plan similar to the one used by UFC welterweight legend Georges St-Pierre in his UFC 94 rematch with BJ Penn. Grapple early and often with the better striker. To not only try and get a takedown, but also try to tire and slow down the man with faster and more accurate hands. Krause feels that strategy is flawed against someone like Adesanya. To him, the best tactic would be to grapple not to exhaust but to close the distance and put the fight in a place that’s less beneficial for the champion.

“No matter how tired Israel is, he’s such a good striker that he’s going to be able to be fast and hit hard through 25 minutes. You’ll never see him throw a labored punch. No matter how tired he is because he’s so efficient at striking,” said Krause. “I’d try to draw out Israel’s strikes and I’d try to shoot in off that. Even if you don’t get the takedown, tying him up, taking his range away–which I think is his best asset–is a win in itself.”

Palmer is a gifted wrestler with NCAA D-1 pedigree. It has been the backbone of his run to two consecutive PFL titles. He has faced the scenario of trying to takedown a better striker that’s expecting a wrestling attack. He believes timing will be crucial if Vettori is successful with his takedowns. And taking a few shots to learn that time and get in on those takedowns is something the Italian will have to be comfortable with.

“A guy like Adesanya, you have to be faking on him all the time and make him aware that you’re not afraid to get dirty, and get in on a shot against the fence, or maybe take a shot to get to the fence,” Palmer says. “To take a punch here or there to try and get close enough to get him to the cage. Maybe it’s not even a shot, maybe it’s a barrage of punches to get him to the fence and then work from there. [Also] working those open cage takedowns like Khabib Nurmagomedov always does, and try and get him down in the middle of the cage.”

“If you’re going to go off your defense and Adesanya’s strikes, you have to set up your own strikes first to get him to counter back, so you know the timing of the counter for your own shot,” he says. “We know that he can take him down, it’s just the timing of the takedown is everything. It’s always fractions of an inch and milliseconds of timing that go into it. If you’re off a half-second or half-inch, it’s the difference in a takedown and a knockout.”

Liddell, a man who has stood in the same feared striker shoes of Adesanya, knows the takedown will not come easy for Vettori. However, he also feels the middleweight champ must continue making life difficult for his opponent if he can wrangle him to the ground. Offering tips from his own legendary sprawl-and-brawl handbook.

“For a guy that doesn’t have a wrestling background, he defends himself on the feet excellently. He moves well and he fakes. Against the cage he’s good at pivoting out, he digs under and he gets out. All that is great, but the problem with him is when he gets taken down,” said Liddell. “The thing I did really good is as soon as I hit the ground, I started to get back up. I never went, ‘Aww ya got me.’

I see that all the time. Just that little bit lets [their opponent] get set. But if right when I hit the ground I start moving, they don’t get set. I made them fight to hold me down. If you’re constantly fighting to keep me down, it makes it a lot easier to get up. For me, I’ll let you hit me, but you’re going to hit me one time and I’m out. I’m going to pop out while you’re hitting me.”

Israel Adesanya versus Marvin Vettori: Who ya got?

In the end, there is a consensus on who will win between our three experts, and it leans heavily in the direction of the champion.

“I just think Adesanya has proven that he’s the champ. And regardless of coming off a loss to Jan Blachowicz, at 185 he is the best guy right now. It’s a stacked division, but I just think Adesanya is too much for Vettori,” Palmer says.

“I really think Adesanya is going to [win] again. I was surprised it was a split-decision last time,” says Liddell.

Although one expert does expect it to still be a competitive fight, for however long it lasts.

“I don’t think Vettori’s wrestling is good enough to get the job done. I do think it’s going to be a good fight [and] I do think Vettori’s going to have moments,” says Krause.

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