We have perhaps the biggest middleweight title fight ever in mixed martial arts history this weekend at UFC 253, as ‘The Last Stylebender’ Israel Adesanya looks to defend his UFC Middleweight Championship against Paulo ‘The Eraser’ Costa.
This is such an epic fight for so many reasons. For one, it’s a title fight, it’s five rounds, and it’s between the champion and clear No. 1 contender. Champions will almost always fight top contenders, but when they fight No. 1 contenders, there’s always something special about it.
This is officially just the second title fight in UFC history where both the champion and challenger come in undefeated. The first was at UFC 98 when the 14-0 Lyoto Machida took the 13-0-1 Rashad Evans’ UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship.
Really, there was another UFC title fight where both the champion and challenger came in undefeated, it was at UFC 182 between the 15-0 Daniel Cormier and the 20-1 Jon Jones for Jones’ UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship.
Of course, as we all know, Jones’ one loss is via DQ, a fight he was absolutely dominating, and a fight that honestly could’ve been stopped before he even had a chance to land those illegal elbows. Nonetheless, the next one is this weekend a weight class below at 185 lbs.
Machida was the challenger going into his fight with Evans, and defeated him via KO in round two. Cormier was the challenger going into his fight with Jones, and lost via unanimous decision. It’s tied up at 1-1 so far, does the champion or challenger come out on top this time around?
‘The Last Stylebender’ has been in the UFC about nine months less than the Brazilian challenger, but has three more fights with the promotion. It’s insane the work rate he put out early on, and the improvements he made in that very short amount of time.
After winning the AFC Middleweight Championship and the Hex Fight Series Middleweight Championship, improving his record to 10-0 and 11-0, Adesanya made his UFC debut at UFC 221, the night Luke Rockhold fought Yoel Romero.
Adesanya defeated Rob Wilkinson via TKO in round two of his UFC debut, before defeating Marvin Vettori via split decision in his next bout. The Vettori fight was a massive learning curve for him. He out-struck Vettori in rounds one and two, but was taken down and held down almost all of round three.
Adesanya was already 2-0 in the UFC inside of just two months, and three months later he defeated Brad Tavares via unanimous decision, winning all five rounds of the bout. This was a pretty masterful performance that showcased more of his skills than we’d seen at that point.
Next came Adesanya’s biggest test to date, a three-time NCAA Division II All-American and a top ten middleweight, Derek Brunson.
This was by far his most impressive performance to date. Adesanya was locked in the entire time, his accuracy was remarkable, and his takedown defense didn’t fail him.
Ultimately, Adesanya handily TKO’d Brunson toward the end of round one, and we knew he wasn’t just hype at this point, but a serious threat to anyone he faces. Adesanya then fought Anderson Silva in an absolute classic three months later.
It was a beautiful display of striking from both parties, and honestly, it’s Silva’s only fight since losing the belt where he looked good, aside from perhaps the Michael Bisping fight. Adesanya defeated Silva via unanimous decision, and he was now looking at a title shot.
The night he fought Silva, then champion Robert Whittaker was scheduled to defend his title against Kelvin Gastelum, but was forced out of the bout the day of the event, and Adesanya versus Silva was moved to the main event, but stayed at three rounds considering it wasn’t even a days notice.
Because of this, Adesanya ended up fighting Gastelum for the interim UFC Middleweight Championship, and it turned into one of the best fights any of us will ever see. It was such a crazy back-an-forth war, but ultimately saw Adesanya walk away as the champion via unanimous decision.
His next fight was of course a title unification bout against Whittaker, who unfortunately had been out for 16 months leading up.
Adesanya looked even better in this fight, nearly KO’ing Whittaker at the end of round one, then officially TKO’ing him in round two to become the new UFC Middleweight Champion.
It was obvious Paulo Costa was next, but he needed bicep surgery, so Adesanya called out someone no one wants to fight, Yoel Romero. Regardless of whether Romero was coming off of two defeats or not, he’s an incredibly scary and dangerous individual.
Also, many people thought he won those fights he wasn’t given the nod in. Many people think he beat Whittaker the second time around, many think he beat Costa when they fought. Adesanya ended up defeating Romero via unanimous decision, marking his first title defense.
‘The Eraser’ is about as scary of an opponent as you’ll find, much like Romero. He’s freakishly big, powerful, strong, and dangerous. Costa is no stranger to titles himself, having won the Face to Face Middleweight Championship in his fifth fight, and he also won the Jungle Fight Middleweight Championship in his seventh.
Costa defended his Jungle Fight title once before joining the UFC, and once he came over, he picked up right where he left off. He TKO’d Garreth McLellan early in round one of his UFC debut, before TKO’ing Oluwale Bamgbose early in round two.
Next, Costa fought someone we all know of, former UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks.
Though Hendricks was severely undersized for middleweight, he had previously defeated former multiple-time world champion Hector Lombard at 185 lbs earlier that year.
Costa ran right through Hendricks, securing the TKO victory in round two.
Uriah Hall was his next test, who was coming off a knockout win over the 19-2 Krzysztof Jotko. Hall did have some success with his jabs, but Costa just kept walking through them, landing thunderous strikes of his own.
The Brazilian talent defeated Hall via KO midway through round two with a vicious uppercut. Costa’s last fight, like the champions, was against Yoel Romero.
This was a straight up war throughout the entire three rounds, and was a very close fight, though all three judges awarded it to Costa.
This marked the first decision win of Costa’s career, he’d finished all of his first twelve opponents. He also went 1-1 on The Ultimate Fighter when he was just 22-years-old, winning his first fight via submission (guillotine choke), and losing the next via split decision.
Israel Adesanya (19-0) vs. Paulo Costa (13-0)
These two are such a dangerous match up for one another. Their frames, their resumes, the way they each fight, it’s a real wonder how this one’s going to go. It will be on Fight Island, so it will be in the bigger cage, which may change a couple things.
Costa won’t be able to walk Adesanya down quite as easily, it’ll be harder for him to cut the champion off, like he likes to do. Costa just marches forward and throws bombs. He throws round kicks to the head, body, and sometimes to his opponents legs.
He’ll also throw switch kicks to the body if his opponent is in an opposing stance, and he has a wide array of punches. Normally it’s hooks to the head or body, or both. He mixes his strikes up very well, so once he hits his opponent in their face, they block their face, and then come the shovel hooks to the body, or vice versa. He’s great at that.
Costa also doesn’t get enough credit for how technical he is. Of course, he’s not ‘The Last Stylebender’, he didn’t go 75-5 in professional kickboxing like the champion did, but he does do everything correctly. He pivots his feet, he torques his body into it, there’s a reason he’s 13-0.
As for the champion, he’s as technical as they come on the feet. The reads he makes, the traps he sets, his choice of attack, he’s extraordinary. He doesn’t have the raw power that Costa possesses, but he doesn’t need it. He’s so precise and accurate, all he needs to do is touch his opponents.
One thing to consider when predicting this fight, Uriah Hall had a ton of success with the straight punches in his fight with Costa, particularly his jabs. Hall did get overwhelmed and finished, but that’s happened in his career before, Adesanya’s never lost, let alone been overwhelmed to a finish.
If Hall can do that, Adesanya should be able to do it and keep his footwork going so he doesn’t get cornered. He’ll also throw a much wider variety of strikes than Hall did. One other thing, and this probably won’t be a factor, but it’s worth mentioning, is Costa’s black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Costa didn’t always used to be this vicious striker he is today. In his earlier fights, like around the time he was on The Ultimate Fighter, he was more of a grappler. He’s certainly gotten much better at both, but it’ll be interesting to see if he decides to use that at any point of the fight.
It’ll also be interesting to see if it goes past three rounds, because it’s hard to imagine Costa keeping that pace for five rounds. He does have good cardio, especially for someone that’s as big as he is that cuts as much weight as he does, but it’s different when it’s his first time going five rounds, and against someone that’s gone five rounds three times.
Adesanya’s striking abilities, along with his frame should help him immensely in this fight, as long as he doesn’t get cracked. He stands 6’4” and has an 80” reach, while Costa stands 6′ with just a 72” reach. Kelvin Gastelum was able to tag Adesanya and he’s three inches shorter than Costa with the same reach, it’s definitely not impossible.
Whoever wins this fight is undoubtedly defending their title against the Robert Whittaker versus Jared Cannonier winner, and no matter who wins either of these fights, that’s a great next fight. Adesanya is 3-0 in UFC title fights thus far, and Costa is looking to make it 1-0 for himself.
Who’s 0 is going to go? Who wins this epic middleweight title fight?