PHOENIX – An embroidered, chiseled Israel Adesanya held the gold middleweight belt Ultimate Fighting Championship over his head while his opponent, Marvin Vettori, mastered the champion and threw the vulgarities during a news conference. UFC President Dana White separated them with his outstretched arms.

The two will fight Saturday night at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., The same terrain where they battled it out in 2018 in a three-round match with a disputed outcome. Adesanya won by a split decision, with two of the three judges declaring him victorious. Since then, the kickboxer has risen to the pinnacle of the sport, winning seven consecutive fights in the 185-pound division, including winning the title in 2019 via a second knockout.

But Vettori also climbs up and wins five consecutive fights, claiming he defeated the champion three years ago. Adesanya said he listened, and is glad the two can finally settle the debate.

“He is holding on to the battle as if it is the biggest victory of his career,” Adesanya said.

Adesanya and Vettori’s match on Saturday’s UFC 263 card is one of the two matches from now on disputed battles. The others are under Deiveson Figueiredo and the challenger, Brandon Moreno, a repeat of a December 2020 fight that ended in a draw.

Nate Diaz, a fan favorite and UFC veteran, also returns from a nearly two-year absence to battle Leon Edwards, a strong welterweight contender, in a 170-pound five-round match. Normally, Edwards and Diaz would fight three rounds as a ticket fight without a title at stake. But both fighters wanted to fight five rounds, and White allowed it for the first time in UFC history.

UFC 263 is the second recent event the company plans to operate in the United States without any coronavirus-related restrictions, such as masks, social distances, or capacity constraints. Nearly two months ago, in Jacksonville, Florida, about 15,000 spectators watched Kamaru Usman defend his welterweight belt via a knockout blow against Jorge Masvidal. For most of the pandemic, the championship hosted events with limited or no fans in the complex in Las Vegas, where the UFC is headquartered, as well as in Florida and the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s always been very important because it’s so close to Vegas,” White said of hosting an event in Phoenix. ‘We have hit the last one here and then this pandemic. You have Florida, you have Texas and you have Arizona. Thank God for the three states. ”

Adesanya, who signed with the UFC in 2017, quickly catapulted one of the company’s most marketable stars shortly after his fight with Vettori.

The fighter was born in Nigeria and moved to New Zealand with his family at the age of 12. He started practicing mixed martial arts because he was bullied during his childhood.

Adesanya, which is currently the no. 4-pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC, boasts 15 knockout blows and is respected for his height and precise hits.

Three months ago, he challenged Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title and tried to join Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo as the only fighters to have belts in different weight classes simultaneously.

But he weighed in at five pounds below the 205-pound limit, and Blachowicz took advantage of the strong difference (which probably increased after losing weight again) by wrestling against Adesanya and winning by unanimous decision. It was the first defeat in Adesanya’s professional career. After the fight, he said he would return to middleweight and defend the belt with his ‘iron black fists’.

Adesanya has defended well against most of Vettori’s removal efforts in 2018, and Vettori will likely try to bring Adesanya to the ground. Since the loss, he has won five consecutive fights and is trying to become the first Italian UFC champion. Their hurt feelings have only increased since the first encounter.

After insulting Adesanya Vettori during the news conference, he got up from his seat to approach him, stopped by security guards.

Figueiredo and Moreno also share a feud. At the news conference, Figueiredo pushed Moreno, who asked security to step in. In December, both men fought in Las Vegas in a five-round fight, a clash so close that judges did not declare a winner.

Figueiredo still retained the 125-pound belt, but the unconvincing result needed a reunion. The quick fight stopped instantly in the third round when Figueiredo kicked Moreno unintentionally near the groin, which is illegal. The point deducted by the referee of Figueiredo was perhaps the difference on the scorecards.

But the most anticipated battle among fans could be Diaz against Edwards. Although Diaz is based in Stockton, California, his support from the crowd was loudest during their news conference, and it still got noisy when he lowered his head, lit a lighter and started smoking marijuana on his seat.

Diaz entered the UFC in 2007 and has always been respected among devoted believers. But he played a key role in 2016, when he fought McGregor on short notice as a replacement for an injury. He strangled the Irish star in the second round in a stranglehold. They completed an exciting rematch a few months later, which Diaz lost in a decision.

He fought twice in 2019 and beat Anthony Pettis, but lost to Masvidal. Despite his inactivity, his support among the fans and on social media showed that his prestige did not diminish. He said he chose to fight Edwards because of his strong record.

Edwards has won eight consecutive fights since 2015 when he lost to Usman. His last fight, against Belal Muhammad in March, was decided as a no-match after Edwards inadvertently stabbed the fighter in the eye.

“I wanted to fight a worthy opponent and for that I am here,” Diaz said. “I’m going to win.”