UFC 253, Israel Adesanya vs Paulo Costa.

  • The UFC returns to Fight Island Saturday, September 26th for another epic championship showdown as two unbeaten middleweights finally go head to head at UFC 253.
  • Having successfully defended his belt against Yoel Romero at UFC 248, New Zealand’s Israel Adesanya looks to add to his legacy as middleweight champion and eliminate a Brazilian rising star.
  • Paulo Costa’s impressive run in the UFC has seen him take out former champions and contenders alike with his vicious punching power. Therefore, the Eraser has his eyes firmly set on gold and the opportunity to dethrone the Last Style-bender.
  • Only one man will leave Fight Island with their unbeaten record intact. Someone’s O has got to go. Its Adesanya vs Costa for the middleweight championship of the world.

Israel Adesanya calling out big guys.

Well looking at the previous fights of Adesanya it’s quite clear that he likes these challenges. Obviously, he sees Paulo Costa as the other undefeated star in the division, and someone that could potentially take the title from Adesanya, also the hype around Adesanya. These kind of fights are the ones that are tailor made for Adesanya because he’s got someone that’s gonna come at him, someone aggressive, someone that wants to close the octagon down very quickly.

Paulo Costa is gonna give Adesanya the stimulus that he needs for his counter striking. It’s much more difficult for Adesanya when he’s facing someone like Yoel Romero, who doesn’t really open up. But with Paulo Costa, what we’ve seen is someone who’s just naturally very aggressive from the get go. Someone that’s gonna try and take the fight, as well as the title, from Adesanya.

Israel Adesanya’s reach advantage.

We see the champion and the challenger. Physically, we see a taller champion. He’s also has a massive reach advantage as well. Which is going to be very crucial in the fight. Especially considering way in which Adesanya fights. The more range he’s got on his shots, the better it’s going to be for Adesanya. Looking back at the previous fights and knockouts. Adesanya is an expert at getting his head out of the way, and then punishing people when they’ve overcommitted. And one thing that we can be certain with Paulo Costa, is if Adesanya misses one of those punches, he’s going to be overcommitted, because he throws everything into them.

Therefore, for Adesanya, with that reach and height difference, if he can use himself as bait, and thereby forcing Paulo Costa to miss, even when he’s out of Paulo Costa’s punching range, he’s gonna be able to crack him clean with some shots. Thus, the “8” inch reach advantage is gonna be massive for Adesanya. Also, if Paulo Costa closes Adesanya down up against the fence it would give Adesanya  6 inch’s to work,  Paulo Costa’s 72 reach is going to look pretty good at that point.

Paulo Costa’s striking.

Paulo Costa’s striking stats are absolutely brilliant. The reason why Paulo’s stats are so high is because of the way he fights. It’s difficult to have a high striking rate when you play most of the game out in the centre of the octagon, because you’re going to miss some shots. The benefit of Paulo Costa being aggressive is that he just take the space away from his opponent. Looking at Costa’s previous fights he just takes a punch well.

He takes a punch because of his muscularity around his neck and his shoulders. He’s able to absorb that power as he’s still moving forward. So that gives him the confidence to close people down and to throw these barrages of shots at them. And what we’re counting is we’re counting shots landed but they could be landing on anything, including the guard. Paulo Costa doesn’t really care. He’s not really bothered where the shots land, aside from the fact that he’s constantly keeping that work rate on his opponent.

When someone’s backed up and will start looking head and body and those kind of things but there are a lot of shots that land on the guard. And that’s why his striking rate is so high. However, when you hit as hard as Paulo Costa, even shots on the guard are gonna do some damage. let’s get straight into the analysis then. And let’s start with the challenger who, we assume, is gonna come forward very, very quickly. But what is going to be his first choice weapon? Well, coming forward is a safe assumption. I would be very surprised if Paulo Costa did something uncharacteristic and he doesn’t try and take away as much of the octagon from Adesanya as possible. Especially with the trash talking that’s going on. You know, he wants to make a big impact in this first round.

So, if, I think, Paulo Costa moving forward and backing Adesanya up, I’ve got to think the safest route to attack for him to start with are gonna be the body kicks. So, there’s a consistency with Costa’s style. If he’s fighting a southpaw, he throws the power back leg to the open side. If he’s fighting an orthodox fighter, he steps through with the lead leg to still work that midsection. He’s always kicking the side of the body. So, you can kind of guess which side he’s gonna be attacking from based on the stance of his opponent. And Paulo Costa, given the fact that he’s so aggressive, and he’s got such a high work-rate, if he sees you get hurt with one of those body shots.

I mean, Garreth McLellan, it was the beginning of the end for him.With Bamgbose, he caught him

with that body shot and recognised. He pointed at him right after the kick had landed because he knew the damage. And then you see the whole posture of your opponent change and that’s where Costa starts crashing forward with his punches. But that’s why I feel like the body kicks are gonna be the start of the attack for Costa because even if he’s landed on the arms of Adesanya, it’s much safer than swinging at his head and missing. You know, 40% of his shots land to the body. So, investing in that early, attacking the arms, attacking the midsection of Adesanya, it negates some of the slipping and the head movement that Adesanya’s got because he’s a more stationary target, the midsection. But it also, you know, it’ll also put more water in the basement for the later rounds. Slow Adesanya down a little bit.

Adesanya a technical master.

Let’s flip it over to the champion. I think he’s expecting a different kind of fighter

than Romero, a fighter that’s gonna engage with him. So, how does he respond to this kind of onslaught from Costa. Well, the Romero fight was a very frustrating one for him and it’s not a frustration, I think, he has to face in this one. I expect him to fight very similar to the way that he did against Gastelum and Whittaker, but you know, he’s got a different kind of animal in front of him.

We’ve seen Adesanya face strikers that kinda get a little bit spooked by his ability to move. Let’s go back to the Tavares fight. Think about the Marvin Vettori fight. Both of those guys, they invested the first, sort of, 60 seconds in the fight trying to hit him in the head. And they were unsuccessful. So then they go into this panic mode where they clinch him and hold him. There are two ways that this plays out.

If someone’s throwing strikes and missing, they’re either gonna try and clinch you or they’re gonna stop throwing those strikes because they feel like their overexposed. In which case, that’s where Adesanya needs to throw a few strikes of his own. And he’s got very good long range, like defensive striking, like he’ll pick at the body. He’ll work the legs so well like he did against Yoel Romero. And he’ll gradually break you down at the distance.

But, the main focus of this, he’s trying to provoke you. That’s what he’s trying to do with these shots. He’s trying to irritate you and provoke you because he wants Paulo Costa to come crashing forward. He wants Paulo Costa to keep that high striking rate up because, from what we’ve seen in his fights, that’s finite. That will run out. And that’s when Adesanya starts to take over technically. In those earlygoings, especially if Paulo Costa starts to swing and miss, you’re gonna get an Adesanya that will pick at him from a distance and try and coax him forward so he can then punish him with counter strikes.

It’s a lot about being smart and not overextending himself though. Because Adesanya doesn’t wanna get caught up in the mix. The punch that he took from Gastelum in the first round swelled up his lip. He can’t take that punch from Paulo Costa because he might not get up. And that’s gotta be a genuine concern for him. So, keeping himself safe in that first round has gotta be a key. And I think those long-range picking techniques with his kicks and with his long jab is gonna be the first line of attack for Adesanya. Such a high-level striker. It’s such an absolute beautiful thing to watch him at work and Costa’s gonna be facing this, and I guess one of the main ways that you shut down something so pretty is to make things pretty ugly sometimes.

He’s gonna come forward really hard. But what makes him so good when he does shut that space down, with his high strike rate, the reason that the strike rate is so high is because he closes range down and he does make the space very claustrophobic. So, if you think Costa’s started the fight, he’s managed to back Adesanya up a little bit to the fence, but he’s also using those body kicks to slam him in the guard and the midsection and force Adesanya into a small wedge up against the fence.

Then what you’ll see is Paulo Costa start falling in with his power shots. And, I mean, I’ll be honest, the left hook that dropped Yoel Romero in the first round is the best punch he’s thrown in his career, It was the tightest, cleanest punch. Clipped him right on the chin. Whenever we’ve seen him back people up against the fence, what you’ll see is he stands kinda squares up a little bit. And he gets these nice dig into one side. And the truth is it’s quite basic because he’s going, you know, right-left, right-left, right-left because he’s rocking.

Because he’s driving his power from one punch to the next. But because he’s got them squared up against the fence, there’s two ways it can go. Adesanya’s not gonna level change. So he’s gonna go one of two ways off the fence, which means he’s got to go into a left or a right hook as he’s moving. And again because Costa’s varying his targets from the head to the body, you can’t keep covered all the time. This is a drawback to being a taller fighter. I mean, obviously, Adesanya’s got longer arms, but he’s got a longer body. So there’s more real estate for him to try and protect from those targets that Costa’s working. And, like I said, once he’s got you closed down and he’s got you up against the fence, you’re a captive audience. You’ve got to deal with those punches because there’s nowhere else to go.

You either have to clinch him to slow him down, or use some kind of trickery to get yourself off the fence, which obviously, I mean, Adesanya’s got. But there’s always a risk when his shoulders touch that fence.

Paulo Costa’s record, no straight knockouts.

This perception, especially from the first two fights that Paulo Costa had in the UFC, this perception that he’s a murderous puncher, and the truth is he’s not. I mean, he’s got a high strike rate because he throws a barrage of punches at people. And everyone that’s gone down in a Costa fight, they’ve gone down conscious. They’ve gone down covering their heads.

They’ve gone down holding their body. He’s not putting people to sleep. Israel Adesanya is not gonna look at Paulo Costa and think, “He’s gonna knock me dead with one punch so I can’t.

get touched at all.” It’s the volume of Paulo Costa which overwhelms people and generally, when they go down, I mean, they all drop on the floor, but they’re conscious when they fall.

Which is gonna give Adesanya a moment. He’s gonna be able to ride some of these shots a bit better than these guys anyway from his kickboxing record. But there’s certainly a perception that Paulo Costa’s far more lethal than he actually is when he starts throwing his hands. And I think Adesanya is gonna be realistic about that risk.

What we learned in part one was that Costa’s likely gonna start this ferociously. He’s gonna try and back up Adesanya. Use big body kicks, and in response, the champ is gonna try to keep him at range. Maybe use some leg kicks like he did against Yoel Romero. But Costa’s all about trying to close that space and break down his opponents. He loves those body shots as well.

Adesanya an elite striker.

Let’s turn it onto the champ once again. An elite striker. And what impresses me about him is his patience. He knows he’ll get the finish but it really doesn’t matter when he gets the fight wrapped up. And that is that is the signal of an elite striker as well because he only needs you know, he only needs a couple of clean shots to get this fight finished, and he also knows that he can utilize his opponent’s aggression against them.

This is what we’ve seen in previous fights of Adesanya’s. Because he knows that people have to close him down because usually he has the reach advantage. He’s fighting guys that have got to move into his range and land something significant. So they tend to do it at speed. I mean, the best example really is the Whittaker fight because Whittaker was coming in to defend his belt against this new superstar in the division that was, effectively stealing all of his thunder. And Whittaker came in that with some animosity.

He came in to try and take his head off. And what we saw from the first round against Adesanya is his ability to just give that space, read what was coming to him, and allow it to just slip past him without really countering. Because then he’s frustrating Whittaker because Whittaker’s swinging and missing. And at the end of the first round, what we saw is Adesanya step in and allow Whittaker to throw that big overhand and then just slip out of the way and punish him cleanly for it at the end of the first round.

And then as the second round starts, we saw much the same. It’s allowing his opponents to work. It’s making sure he’s safe, and then once they’ve overcommitted their bodyweight, he’s punishing them. And with someone like Paulo Costa, when he comes crashing forward with all of that energy and momentum behind him, if he runs onto an Adesanya strike, it’s gonna its gonna further increase the power of that punch.

And as we pointed out in the first part of the analysis, Paulo Costa’s not a murderous puncher. He’s a ferocious puncher with a high volume, and it’s the volume that overwhelms people. It breaks them down. They crumble under that pressure. The benefit here for Adesanya is that he knows there’s stuff coming at him. He knows he can provoke Paulo Costa. He knows he can get him to throw.

The more he misses, the more he’s gonna be aggressive and overcommit, and the easier that will be for Israel Adesanya to catch him. And also as we discussed, because he’s not one-punch knockouts for Paulo Costa, it’s the accumulation, there’s an opportunity for Israel Adesanya to make a few mistakes in this one, to maybe get clipped a couple of times. Because, i mean, if you look at his stats, like, in the round and a half that he faced Whittaker, he took 32 punches.

He took 32 punches to measure and find the knockout shot. Against Yoel Romero, all that time he was facing Yoel Romero, five rounds, he took 40 shots. He didn’t find the finishing shot against Yoel Romero and he also didn’t get finished. He didn’t get punished for taking too many risks. Whereas if you go back to the Paulo Costa/Yoel Romero fight, took 125 punches from Yoel Romero over 3 rounds. That’s the difference. It was a much more entertaining fight on the Paulo Costa, Yoel Romero side, but that’s because they were both taking punches and landing punches. With Adesanya, he was able to hold Romero off with that bit of witchcraft that he’s got, the feinting and reading.

So, Yoel Romero really didn’t wanna commit to anything, because he knew he was gonna run on to something. I don’t know whether Paulo Costa has that second mindset of, “Well, let me hold back and wait to see what Adesanya is gonna do.” Most likely is, he’s not. Most likely is he’s gonna come forward and try to knock Adesanya out. In which case, Adesanya can pick his poisons, choose the shots that he might have to take to keep himself in range and find his own finish.

I think the statement “A game of inches” comes down to it being sort of millimetric precision for the Style-bender and he’s gonna need that against Costa. Despite what you’re saying, you know, with that one-punch knockout power. If he gets you on a roll, it could be an early night.

Costa’s evolution.

Let’s focus on Costa for a second, and another thing that’s impressed me is his evolution. Because when he first burst onto the scene at The Ultimate Fighter, this guy was a grappler.

There are a few reasons for this. I think the first thing is, when he was on Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, he learned a very hard lesson in that first round where he jumped on someone’s back. He had the body triangle sunk in.

He was trying to get that finish as hard as he could for that first round, and then he had nothing left to give. And the problem is now, because he’s not had many fights, the standard is getting much better every time. The opportunities for him to try his ground and pound, for him to reassure himself in his conditioning, they’re running out.

He’s now at a stage where he realises he’s got a gas tank and he can spend that gas tank however he wants. He can spend half of it grappling, to hold the person in position to hit them. Or he can improve his boxing where he can utilise that energy system much better. And what we’re seeing is the evolution is his striking skillset.

We’re seeing him with powerful body kicks that then set up his punching barrage. And it negates that need to be wrestling hard. It negates that need to be tiring yourself out, really not getting anywhere other than controlling your opponent.

If I’m Paulo Costa and I know I’ve got a certain amount of energy to give in a fight, I’m going to balance that the best I can. And now he’s stepping up to fight over five rounds. He has to take into account there’s an additional 10 minutes to work. I would imagine that he’s still got memories

of that Ultimate Fighter Brazil fight where he gassed himself in the first round. If he lost that fight by split decision,

Israel Adesanya’s takedown defense.

I think the other thing we have to bear in mind is Israel Adesanya’s takedown defence is getting much, much better. You know, as much as Paulo Costa’s evolving and improving as he goes from one fight to the next, we’re seeing Israel Adesanya do the same thing.

Obviously, Adesanya’s a smart dude who’s coming into mixed martial arts as a kickboxer. So, he knows what his skillset is, and he also knows that the majority of people looking at him with that kickboxing I mean, 75 fights on his kickboxing record. People know what he wants to do in the fight. So, when he faces a Marvin Vettori or a Brad Tavares or someone like that, they spend the first 60 seconds swinging at him and missing.

They naturally switch over to a grappling game. And from Adesanya’s perspective, he knows at some point he’s gonna have to defend takedowns to keep the fight in the strongest area of his game. I think what we saw when he faced Brunson is, you know, a clear development in his takedown defence, which then allowed him to add striking onto the end.

So, Brunson came out, as he does in his fights, with a wild couple of minutes. He tried to hit Adesanya, didn’t work. Clinched him, round him up against the fence, and Adesanya started  cruising because he now knows Brunson’s into his second half of his game. And Adesanya then

does a great job of getting off the fence and getting clear. As Brunson then pursues him though you can see Brunson’s gonna level change.

So, Adesanya making his UFC debut seeing a level change like this responds to the level change with takedown defence. The Adesanya that faced Brunson, he switched over to striking instead. Now that, to me, shows a clear confidence that his takedown defence is good enough. If he needs to revert back to scrambling and getting back to his feet, he can. Decided to throw a knee in there instead, and he read the angle at which Brunson’s head was coming down perfectly.

Just clipped him right on the chin. And he had to actually adjust the knee as it was coming in because Brunson was covering distance so quickly. As the knee comes up, you can see Adesanya pull his hip back, so he’s making sure he’s catching Brunson right on the chin as he’s moving in. I mean, that, to me, shows a striker that’s confident in his takedown defence. Now he knows that if he needs to get back to his feet, he can.

Mental warfare.

I might be off here, but I reckon this might be one of the biggest rivalries involving a Brazilian fighter since we saw Jose Also against Conor McGregor. Now, of course, anyone supporting Costa doesn’t want to see the same sort of outcome.

Do you think it’s even a something that might be in the narrative there that Costa is so, kind of, angry with Adesanya. He said he wants to hurt him, wants to make him cry, etc. That he comes out flying and he gets caught with something super early? It’s certainly playing into Adesanya’s game, as it did for Conor’s game against Aldo.

To prime somebody before the fight is just like hitting him with low kicks and punches to the midsection in the first and second rounds. He’s priming him to rush forward. And what Adesanya doesn’t want to do is to go and find Paulo Costa in the octagon. That’s what he faced against Yoel Romero.

That’s why it was so slow, is because Adesanya’s a counter striker. And you can force people to attack you with a multitude of different ways. One of them is, in the fight, use your techniques. But the other one is priming him psychologically before the fight starts. We’ve seen Costa octagon side, you know, yelling at him after fights.

Costa’s already animated. He’s already been waiting a long time for this fight as well. Because, you know, when Adesanya was fighting Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa knew that should’ve

been him in here, had he not been out for surgeries and stuff.

So, there is gonna be a there is gonna be an aggression in Paulo Costa that I think is gonna play into Adesanya’s hands. And again, we talked about the fact that Paulo Costa, he’s high-volume puncher. He overwhelms people. He’s not a murderous puncher. So, this is not for Adesanya, this is not a Russian roulette kinda circumstance.

It’s not one punch from Paulo Costa from any angle and you’re done. Like, he’s not got Ngannou kind of power. He’s gotta land a multitude of strikes on Adesanya. Which means Adesanya can allow him to move forward a little bit. It makes more sense for him, as Adesanya being a counter striker, makes more sense to have Paulo Costa aggressively move forward.

So you first think about your own defence, and then you think about the counters. But they’re already moving on to of those counters because of the aggression. What a fight this is gonna be. Both of these individuals have gifted us fans with such incredible performances in the octagon so far. Then you add in the will they have towards one another. This is gonna be special. I know it will be.

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