Marvin Vettori wants revenge, gold against Israel Adesanya at UFC 263

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“Life is about timing,” said UFC middleweight contender Marvin Vettori. “You have to be ready for the unknown sometimes.”

Vettori wasn’t merely being philosophical; he was speaking to The Post regarding his long-awaited, hard-lobbied second opportunity to face Israel Adesanya, this time challenging for his rival’s 185-pound championship. The fight is slated to headline Saturday’s UFC 263 pay-per-view event from Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. — the same venue where they last met in 2018, when Adesanya earned a three-round split decision victory.

The timing almost didn’t work out for the matchup. Vettori (17-4-1, 11 finishes) was one of two viable candidates to face Adesanya (20-1, 15 finishes), both fighters coming off clear decision victories as UFC Fight Night headliners in April. The other candidate, former champion Robert Whittaker, told ESPN he was offered the title shot against the man who beat him for the belt “about an hour” after his impressive victory over Kelvin Gastelum on April 17. When he declined, Vettori was the next man up after a workmanlike decision victory over Kevin Holland a week earlier.

The key factor was the June date. Whittaker believed the choice to fight was “impossible” due to the quick turnaround, given that he would have to fly home to Australia and deal with pandemic isolation protocols in between.

But Vettori, a native Italian who lives and trains in Southern California, put aside his preference of fighting later in the year to take the fight he’d clamored so long to secure.

“Ideally, maybe I wanted a little more time.” Vettori recently said. “But guess what? I’m here.”

That’s often the case in the modern UFC championship picture. While Whittaker sits atop the promotional rankings at middleweight, more fighters like him are passed over for simply being unavailable when the UFC wants or needs a title fight to happen — and for the right price.

When it comes down to it, Vettori simply played the game better after positioning himself as a viable alternative title challenger. In his eyes, that’s Whittaker’s problem, not his own.

“He lost the train. The UFC ain’t gonna play the way you want,” said Vettori without remorse. “It’s just not gonna happen. You don’t want to play that game with the UFC because you might lose the train.”

So, here we are, with Vettori positioned to knock out two birds with one s tone: avenge the most recent defeat of his career and become the first UFC champion from Italy. And both mean quite a lot to the 27-year-old, who enters this weekend on a five-fight win streak since the April 2018 setback against Adesanya — which Vettori is happy to tell anyone who will listen is not a real loss.

“As much as I want to become [the champion] … to just settle the score of who’s the best fighter in the world and between me and him [is important],” Vettori said.

So much has changed for Vettori in the three-plus years since then. At age 24, he says he “didn’t have much [deep] knowledge” of many aspects of the sport and was six years removed from his pro debut. Now nine years in — often a prime year for fighters — he feels the time is right to overtake the 31-year-old former professional kickboxing standout from Nigeria via New Zealand.

Many look to Adesanya’s most recent outing, a March loss to light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, as a blueprint for how one might defeat him at 185 pounds, where the champ remains unbeaten. But Vettori classifies the takedown-based strategy Blachowicz employed in the later rounds, sealing the win, as “confirmation of a lot of things [he] already knew.”

Israel Adesanya of Nigeria and Marvin Vettori of Italy face off during the UFC 263 ceremonial weigh-in on June 11, 2021
Israel Adesany and Marvin Vettori face off during the UFC 263 ceremonial weigh-in on June 11, 2021
Zuffa LLC

“I’m not Blachowicz, with a lot of respect towards him; he’s a great fighter,” Vettori said. “But people are, “Oh, are you gonna take a lot from the Blachowicz fight?’ No, man! I’m gonna fight my fight. I know how to beat this guy. I don’t need no Blachowicz. I showed the world how to beat this guy before.”

Indeed, the first time this weekend’s main-attraction middleweights met, Vettori took Adesanya down in the third and final round. Adesanya, at the time in his second UFC bout but just a year out of his kickboxing days, displayed the same difficulty getting back to his feet as he did against Blachowicz.

It’s more than just business between Adesanya and Vettori at this point. The champion, a self-described social media troll, has shared several unflattering words and images directed at the Italian. Beyond that, Vettori considers his opponent “a snake,” among other less flattering and more vulgar labels.

Frustrated by a few incidents in which Vettori became convinced Adesanya is “fake,” he says the champ is “what I stand against, even as a human.” He recalls a time he saw Adesanya outside of a hotel in Las Vegas that he believes the champ later misrepresented in the media.

“I called, ‘What’s up? Come here.’ And he just came, and he was all friendly,” Vettori recalls. “… But then I saw and he talked about this encounter in the media and he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, Marvin saw me one time, he tried to talk to me, and I just told him, like, go away.’ And that showed how much of a liar this guy is.”

The Italian says there’s a phrase in his native tongue that describes Adesanya’s behavior well: “Va dove tira il vento,” which he translates to “where the wind pulls you,” referring to the champion’s perceived penchant for changing how he acts based on the audience.

Personal feelings aside, Vettori is focused on the goal and the gold on Saturday night. And once he achieves that, the door opens for a potential first UFC event in his home country. The promotion has held events throughout Europe over the years but has yet to stop in Italy. And “The Italian Dream” says with fervor “that has to happen.”

“After having an Italian champion, that has to be the next move,” said Vettori, citing Milan as a potential and realistic destination, which is about a three-hour drive from his hometown of Mezzocorona. “… I’ll try my best, for sure, [to lobby for it]. It’s another dream of mine.”

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