SOMEONE'S ‘0’ will have to go as the UFC returns to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi for a five-week run of events, kicking off with the undisputed middleweight championship of the world featuring the defending Israel Adesanya (11/20) against #1 contender Paulo Costa (6/4).
Collectively, champion and challenger boast 32 wins against zero defeats. Adesanya has stopped 14 of 19 opponents, while Costa has required the judges scores just once in his 13 victories. The lack of a blueprint to beat either man is what makes Sunday morning’s main event so intriguing.
The 31-year-old champion, Nigeria-born and New Zealand raised, is a flashy creative striker with a background in high level kickboxing. Known as ‘The Last Stylebender’, he utilises superior height and reach along with fluid, unpredictable movements to bamboozle opponents and pick them off at range before closing in to finish.
Costa, 29, has a style that, whilst a lot more predictable, is even more destructive. He won his first nine MMA fights inside the opening round, all but one by knockout and the last being his UFC debut. Back in Brazil he’s known as ‘Borrachinha’, or ‘The Eraser’, as he finishes fights by first bloodying his opponents, then wiping them out.
@Stylebender doesn't throw and hope – he aims and fires!
— UFC (@ufc) September 23, 2020
Comparable to Costa, before joining the UFC Adesanya had stopped all 11 opponents inside two rounds. But, since stepping up to the big show, he’s banked five points decisions in eight victories. He has however been competing at a far higher level, including four scheduled five-round main events.
He took the 185lb belt from Aussie Robert Whittaker last October in a highly pressurised grudge match Down Under, upgrading the Interim belt he earned with a Fight of the Year victory over Kelvin Gastelum the previous April. And Adesanya made a successful defence just before lockdown in March too, when he comfortably outpointed Cuban dangerman Yoel Romero.
Costa hasn’t been nearly as busy, but earned his shot at the title by outpointing Romero himself last summer. Prior to that he knocked out top 10 Uriah Hall in two and in 2018 and ended 2017 by doing the same to former welterweight champ Johny Hendricks.
This is however Costa’s first ever UFC main event; his first scheduled 25-minute fight. How those heaving muscles impact on his cardio should the fight reach the championship rounds will prove critical.
Likewise, whether Adesanya’s fight week predictions of an early finish are just a ruse to get Costa to come out swinging or whether he truly plans on meeting fire with fire could also prove pivotal to the challenger’s hopes of causing an upset.
I am expecting an Adesanya masterclass en route to a lopsided points victory (3/1). But, as Costa reminded me earlier this week, whenever he steps foot inside the Octagon, “Don’t blink!