Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

By Zach Alvira | June 11, 2021

The Ultimate Fighting Championship will take over Glendale Saturday night in just it’s third live-audience event since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

UFC 263 will kick off Saturday, June 12, from Gila River Arena. The event will feature nine preliminary fights before the start of a main card that features two title bouts.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” UFC President Dana White said. “To be back in full arenas again, it’s awesome. I think people are going to be all fired up.”

Deiveson Figueiredo will defend his flyweight title against challenger Brandon Moreno to kick off the main card. Israel Adesanya will then defend his middleweight belt against Marvin Vettori in the final fight of the night. It’s the second time Adesanya and Vettori will face each other, with the last meeting having taken place in 2018 in Glendale.

Along with the two title matches, the main card features a light heavyweight bout between Paul Craig and Jamahal Hill and two welterweight bouts — Demian Maia versus Belal Muhammad and Leon Edwards versus Nate Diaz.

“I was excited to get here all week,” White said. “We have three top fights, and the rest of the card is packed with great fights. The crowd is back, and the energy is going to be through the roof.”

The UFC’s first event in front of a live audience since the start of COVID-19 was held in Jacksonville, Florida, on April 24. More than 15,000 fans flooded into VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena to take in what for many was likely their first dose of live action sports in well over a year.

On May 15, the UFC hosted just over 16,000 fans at the Toyota Center in Houston. Now, White has his sights set on Glendale.

It will be the first time since February 17, 2019, that UFC will descend upon the Valley. That night at Talking Stick Resort Arena — known now as Phoenix Suns Arena — 14,269 fans were in attendance. White believes that attendance record will be broken Saturday. He also believes the crowd will have the same energy seen at Phoenix Suns’ home playoff games the last couple of weeks.

“We will absolutely see that,” White said in reference to the playoff crowd at Suns games. “It’ll be crazy. People are tired, man. People are done with all of this. By the time we get there, I will have done my part and the fans will have done theirs. At that point, it’s up to the fighters, and if they do what they’re supposed to, we will blow the roof off that place on Saturday night.”

Phoenix has become a hub of sorts for UFC events. Arizonans’ passion for fighting likely stems from the close proximity to Las Vegas, the fight capital of the world and where UFC is based. But Arizona’s history with the UFC goes deeper than the now-annual shows put on in the Valley by White.

Arizona State has produced several fighters from its nationally recognized wrestling program. Lauren Murphy, who will participate in the prelims Saturday as the third-ranked fighter in her class, fights out of Glendale and has made the Valley her home.

The ability for fighters like Murphy to perform in front of their home crowd after more than a year is special to White. And especially in Murphy’s case, her fight is among the most crucial as she faces sixth-ranked Joanne Calderwood.

“It’s awesome,” White said. “When we started doing Arizona fights, it was huge for us. And for her, not only is it her chance to fight in her home state but it’s a big fight for her. Don’t let the six next to (Calderwood) fool you. That’s a really tough fight for Lauren, but if she wins, she’s in title contention.”

Saturday’s fights are a precursor for what will be a string of several more events put on by UFC in the Valley. White said he plans to continue hosting events in Arizona, Texas and Florida — three states where there are no longer restrictions on sold-out events.

White feels strongly about allowing as many fans as possible to watch his fights. And until more states open and drop restrictions set forth during the initial stages of the pandemic, White said UFC will continue with events in Las Vegas, Florida, Texas and Arizona.

“It’ll be Vegas, Arizona, Texas and Florida,” White said. “I’ll just drive back and forth, up and down the bottom of the United States for the next two years if I have to. I want fans to be able to attend.”

UFC 263 will kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday from Gila River Arena in Glendale. All prelims will be available on ESPN, with the main card available for purchase via ESPN+. Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster.

UFC 263

When: 3 p.m. Saturday, June 12

Where: Gila River Arena, 9400 W. Maryland Avenue, Glendale

Cost: Sold out

Info: gilariverarena.com

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