UFC President Dana White had repeatedly insisted that the Israel Adesanya vs Paulo Costa matchup had "Fight of the Year" written all over it. However, fight fans witnessed a rather disappointing outing from Paulo Costa against UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya.
The Stylebender absolutely dominated Costa and picked up a second round stoppage win to hand Costa his first loss of his career. With this win, Israel Adesanya has cemented himself as one of the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.
However, there's a reason to believe that the Paulo Costa we were expecting to show up against Israel Adesanya was missing. After being robbed off an exciting fight between Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero, fight fans were once again robbed off yet another spectacle in the form of Israel Adesanya vs Paulo Costa. UFC President Dana White said in the post-fight presser that it was a "Domination of the Year" outing for the undefeated and undisputed king of the Middleweight division.
Paulo Costa who fought Yoel Romero was missing at UFC 253
Israel Adesanya has earned so much respect for his high level counter striking that even the most fiercest of strikers are hesitant to take the fight head-on against Israel Adesanya. After back to back decision wins, Adesanya found himself amid criticism of lacking solid knockout power. After Gastelum put up an incredible peformance against Adesanta in five rounds of war, fighters started speculating about how taking the fight to Israel Adesanya might do the trick.
However, Israel Adesanya shocked the world as he became the first fighter to KO Robert Whittaker inside the octagon. Soon after, Adesanya striking prowess and his counter-punching became a trademark and with a stoppage victory of Paulo Costa, Adesanya continues to prove why he is probably right on top with the likes of Anderson Silva at the UFC Middleweight division.
Israel Adesanya landed a brutal left hook to knock Whittaker cold to become the UFC Middleweight Champion back at UFC 243. Whittaker paid the price for advancing against Adesanya. In his first title defense against "Soldier of God" Yoel Romero, Adesanya found himself against a fighter who wanted to counter-punch, leading to a lackluster performance from both the fighters. While the idea for Romero may have been conserving energy, Adesanya likes to pick his shots and mostly relies on his counter-punching against a lethal striker.
Something similar happened during Israel Adesanya vs Paulo Costa, where Costa did not fight his usual style. Even UFC President Dana White called the fight "weird" in the post-fight press conference, and felt that he did not understand why Paulo Costa fought the way he fought against Israel Adesanya. Paulo Costa was expected to come heavy, pressure Adesanya, exchange strikes and land a devastating punch to grab a stoppage victory. However, after everything was said and done, it was Israel Adesanya pressuring Paulo Costa, all the while handing him his first loss of his MMA career.
Going into the first round, UFC commentators could be seen complimenting Paulo Costa's patience against a technical striker like Israel Adesanya. The Stylebender managed distance brilliantly, and was able to chomp on the lead leg of Paulo Costa, making him compromised him going into the second round.
While there's an argument to be made that Paulo Costa could have been looking at taking the fight to Adesanya in the later rounds and was holding his punches to conserve energy, Costa managed to land only 12 strikes in the entire duration of the fight. UFC President Dana White stated that Costa could only land a "jab" as The Stylebender obliterated the most fiercest striker in the UFC.
There's a reason to believe that Paulo Costa failed to match Adesanya's speed and precision. Costa also got carried away in the theatrics, repeatedly calling out Adesanya to the middle of the octagon.
Additionally, Costa did not exchange like he has even against the likes of Yoel Romero. For the larger part, Paulo Costa has fared with fighters who would opt to take a few punch to give some in exchange, however, against someone like Israel Adesanya, it's totally negligible. Adesanya doesn't look to exchange except when absolutely necessary like the last round against Kelvin Gastelum where he picked the former interim contender apart to pick up an impressive unanimous decision win. Costa's reluctance to exchange punches could have a lot to do with Adesanya's credibility as a counter striker, and his ability to pick his shots as seen against his fight against Robert Whittaker.
Despite the narrative, Adesanya is a huge and has solid power in his hands. Additionally, he is lanky and his tall figure and unimagingbale reach gives him an edge over his opponents. Adesanya kept Costa away from striking distance, and closed in with strikes whenever he tried to advance. With continued damage on his lead leg, Adesanya narrated the entire pace of the fight against a pressure fighter like Paulo Costa. It was weird to see Costa not take the fight to the cage, despite getting huge success against Yoel Romero in his last fight. Be that as it may, Israel Adesanya did not only won the mental war against Paulo Costa but also managed to secure a stoppage victory against an undefeated fighter.
It was expected that Costa would try to take the fight to the ground, with many fight fans expecting for Costa to start grappling in the first round to put Adesanya on the back-foot. With Henry Cejudo flying all the way down to Brazil to train and help Paulo Costa, the Brazilian fighter failed to mix his game against a seasoned striker like Israel Adesanya. After all the drama surrounding BJJ, it was surprising to see Paulo Costa not go for the take-down even once, and get involved in a trash-talk while repeatedly asking Israel Adesanya to come to the middle of the octagon.
Adesanya was able to exploit Paulo Costa's game-plan and dictate the pace of the fight. Adesanya was not only able to pick his shots against one of the most fiercest strikers in the UFC but also able to pick up a stoppage win against a fighter who has fared against the likes of Yoel Romero, Uriah Hall, and Johnny Hendricks and never once drifted away from his style.
Paulo Costa always brought the fight head-on, ready for a slug-fest even against the likes of Romero. While Paulo Costa did appear patient in the first round, it just wasn't the right decision to drastically change his fighting style in a huge match-up against Israel Adesanya for the UFC Middleweight Championship.Published 28 Sep 2020, 12:08 IST