UFC 253: Adesanya and Costa Meet in a Legacy Fight

Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa, UFC 253
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - SEPTEMBER 25: (L-R) Opponents Israel Adesanya of Nigeria and Paulo Costa of Brazil face off during the UFC 253 weigh-in on September 25, 2020 at Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

For the first time in over ten years, two undefeated male fighters will meet with a UFC title on the line when Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa finally collide at UFC 253.

Israel Adesanya is no longer “next big thing.”

After cutting a path through Anderson Silva, Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker, and Yoel Romero, he has proven that his time is now.  Having lived up to the hype that accompanied him when he joined the UFC, he has spent the last year helping to carry one of the most anticipated fights in middleweight title history as he faces the challenge of removing his Brazilian rival from the ranks of the unbeaten.  Should he do so, he would continue to build his case as one of the best fighters in the world today and continue his ascension into crossover stardom.

“The Last Stylebender” has a literal colossal task in front of him, but that has not stopped talk of drifting toward the future.  Adesanya has made it clear that he is in no hurry to move up anytime soon, which bodes will for Whittaker, Jared Cannonier, Darren Till and the other middleweight contenders looking for their crack at the champion.  That said, he has expertly sown the seeds of a potential super fight with Jon Jones that has many fans clamoring for a collision of the two talents at a higher weight class.  It is an expert move should he be successful, continuing to draw the intrigue of the sporting world while leading to a payoff in a future not so far away.  It works two-fold to build his legacy inside the cage and his brand outside of it.  Quite simply, the public loves the fact that Adesanya is looking for the kind of matchups that currently can only be made in the video game that he is on the cover of.

Saturday’s fight has captured the imagination due to the fact that Adesanya has the perfect foil in Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa.  First introduced to fans as part of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil on Wanderlei Silva’s team back in 2014, Costa was bounced early from the competition but would end up having a UFC career that few could have predicted at the time.  Despite the results on TUF, Costa has emerged as the most successful and popular fighter from his season.  Brutal stoppages over Gareth McLellan, Oluwale Bamgbose, Johnny Hendricks, and Uriah Hall led to his breakout performance: a war with top ranked former title challenger Yoel Romero last August.

“The Eraser” has played the role of spoiler perfectly.  Twice he has been the monster waiting in the wings in the crowd for Adesanya’s fights and the anticipation for their clash has increased each time.  For Costa, the battle is a chance to earn his place amongst the Brazilian legends who have held UFC gold.  Though Brazil has had many UFC champions over the years, no male fighter from the country has held a belt since 2015 until Deiveson Figueiredo won the flyweight title in July. Costa would have an incredible legacy to live up to in following names like Anderson Silva and José Aldo, but removing Adesanya from the ranks of the unbeaten would be the perfect coronation to begin his own chapter in the history books.

The fight can be boiled down to two straightforward strategies: Adesanya will look to use his range and fight at a distance while Costa will be looking to overwhelm him with forward pressure.  Footwork and volume are paramount to an Adesanya victory as he should look to get in-and-out with short combinations and avoid being lured into the pocket with the challenger.  Costa must mix up his attack with punches and kicks to hamper the champion’s mobility and make it easier to cut off the cage.  If there is one x-factor in the fight, it is whether or not Adesanya will avoid engaging with Costa if the Brazilian employs a similar tactic as Romero did in March.  If so, Costa could steal rounds by raising his output in key moments throughout the fight.

A victory for Adesanya would likely see him set his sights toward Jared Cannonier should “The Killa Gorilla” best former champion Robert Whittaker in October.  Should Whittaker prevail, Adesanya could turn his attention to the winner of Darren Till and Jack Hermansson who are set to meet in December.  A Costa victory could see an immediate rematch depending on the nature of the fight or his choice of any of the aforementioned contenders should they be victorious in their bouts.