Both Paulo Costa and Luke Rockhold have questions overshadowing their returns to action, but their bout remains a high stakes one at UFC 278.
— UFC (@ufc) August 17, 2022
Last October’s situation, to put it mildly, did not come off well for Paulo Costa. Were it not for the game nature of opponent Marvin Vettori, their fight and possibly an entire fight card might have been scrapped with less than a week’s notice as “The Eraser” arrived to Vegas over 20 pounds above the agreed upon weight limit. He would cite an injury as the cause for his coming in overweight after the fact, but the handling of the entire fiasco left many questioning the professionalism of Costa. Vettori eventually agreed to take the fight at light heavyweight in order to preserve the bout and prevailed in a 25 minute contest. In the aftermath, UFC President Dana White declared that Costa would be moving up a weight class due to how the week was handled on his side.
Costa and his team insisted that he wanted to stay at middleweight. But if his upcoming opponent is to be believed, the UFC has only allowed him two do so if he is monitored by the promotion throughout his camp to ensure that he is in fact on weight. The fact that Costa has tried to poke fun at the situation on social media has not quelled concerns that his commitment to being a professional outside of camp is not up to the standards of the elite. For a fighter who was undefeated going into one of the biggest fights of 2020, the 180 degree turn in his reputation is a stark one to say the least. This makes getting a victory against Rockhold all the more vital if he wishes to eventually work his way back to a shot at the title.
— UFC (@ufc) February 7, 2018
Though he remains a strong brand in his own right, Luke Rockhold also has questions about his future to answer. When last seen in the Octagon in 2019, Rockhold was on the wrong side of a bout with future champion Jan Blachowicz in a move to light-heavyweight that was meant to rejuvenate his career. Instead, it led to a retirement from MMA which lasted two years. He was set to return in 2021, but he suffered another injury that kept him out of action once again. It was the third injury to occur since he won the middleweight championship seven years ago that pulled him bout a bout.
Rockhold has said in recent months that personal circumstances have led to a renewed vigor to succeed in the cage in what will be his first fight in over three years. He also enters the conversation at great time when looking in the current iteration of the middleweight division. Current champion Israel Adesanya has run through the majority of contenders and there is no obvious challenge left for him at 185 pounds following his upcoming bout with Alex Pereira. Though he must hold hold up his end of the bargain, Rockhold through the process of elimination could find himself in a title fight should he look impressive against Costa.
The bout is expected to be a straightforward one, with Rockhold using his length and speed to counter-strike with the forward plodding Costa. The former champion is expected to use his powerful kicks to chop away at the movement of Costa while getting in-and-out with short punches. Costa is expected to use forward pressure to keep Rockhold against the fence where he has historically left more openings for opponents to capitalize on. Using kicks himself to make Rockhold a more stationary target is also expected to be part of the strategy for the former title challenger.
A victory for Rockhold could propel him up the ladder much faster than expected. On his name value and the strength of the victory alone, a fight with the winner of the title fight in November is not out of the question should Adesanya be victorious. If it should not materialize, a bout with another contender such as Jack Hermansson or the winner of the bout between Robert Whittaker and Marvin Vettori makes sense. For Costa, the best scenario following a possible victory would be if Whittaker defeats Vettori, and to get a fight with Whittaker in late 2022 or early 2023. A fight with Hermansson is also an option if a bout with Whittaker doesn’t materialize.