Kiwi UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya puts his title on the line later this month, facing Brazilian Paulo Costa in the headline bout of UFC 253 on September 27. Christopher Reive looks at Costa's run to the title shot.
Who is Paulo Costa?
Costa is a 29-year-old hailing from Brazil, boasting a 13-0 professional record in mixed martial arts. Well versed in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai, elements of the latter have been his calling card in MMA with his approach to the sport a very heavy-striking one.
Costa is one of the more powerful fighters in the UFC middleweight division and well-built to implement such an approach (read: he's built like a brick outhouse). In his 13-fight career, Costa has 11 wins by KO/TKO, one by submission and one by decision.
While undefeated as a professional, Costa has tasted defeat in an exhibition bout under the UFC banner – with a split decision loss while competing in the promotion's reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter.
How did he earn his shot at the belt?
Costa has only had five fights inside the UFC. But what he's done in those fights has been enough for the promotion to give him a huge push. Costa finished his first four fights with the promotion inside the opening two rounds, which saw his given an opportunity at perennial top contender Yoel Romero – Adesanya's most recent foe.
That fight was the first time a UFC fight involving Costa needed to go to the judges' scorecards, and Costa came away with a unanimous decision win. After beating Romero, he was the consensus next challenger for the belt after Adesanya, who won it in October last year.
Surprisingly, Costa has only had two fights against UFC middleweights ranked inside the top 15 of the division, but beating then-No 2 ranked Romero saw him jump the cue. His other ranked conquest was American Uriah Hall, who Costa took out in the second round. In comparison, six of Adesanya's eight UFC opponents were ranked inside the top 15 in the division at the time they fought Adesanya.
The middleweight 'monster'
Before Adesanya and Costa meet in the octagon, you're likely to hear UFC president Dana White refer to Costa as a monster on more than one occasion.
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Simply put, Costa wants to scrap. He's a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but you wouldn't know it by the way he goes about his business in the cage. He's attempted just two takedowns in his five UFC fights - both unsuccessful attempts in his second bout with the promotion against Oluwale Bamgbose.
Instead, Costa will move forward and throw strikes with volume, with plenty of power behind each one. His high output early in fights doesn't necessarily bode well later in fights as he has historically faded toward the back end of the second round, but that's not an issue if you're stopping opponents early.
He has only seen the third round once in his UFC career - in his bout against Romero. UFC 253 will be the first time Costa has been in a five-round main event in his UFC career. Despite only seeing 10 rounds inside the UFC octagon – and only six of those being the full five minutes – Costa has attempted more than 1000 strikes, and landed more than 600 of them. He has score eight knockdowns in the octagon and only been knocked down twice (both times against Romero).
Volume and power are the name of the game for the Brazilian, which has made him such a marketable athlete for the UFC.