Things had been heated between Paulo Costa and Luke Rockhold ahead of UFC 278.
The co-main event middleweights had traded barbs on clothes, age, and weight, among other topics. They’d sparred verbally at the pre-fight press conference earlier in the week. And on Saturday, the pair would finally get to settle their differences — with the winner instantly being thrust back into the spotlight at 185 pounds.
What transpired between Luke Rockhold and Paulo Costa at UFC 278 was unlike anything anyone had expected. While many foresaw a quick finish, the pair battled it out for a full fifteen minutes, each man hurting the other.
In the opening round, Rockhold started strong, taking the fight to Costa. The Brazilian soon tagged Rockhold, who fell back on his kicks, ripping body kick after body kick to Costa’s left side. Before long, however, both fighters were exhausted. Rockhold was frequently putting his hands on his knees. When Costa took the fight to the ground, Rockhold essentially welcomed it. Costa moved to mount, with surprising ease. They’d head to the second, with Rockhold slowly moving back to his corner, and refusing to sit on his stool between rounds.
Round two saw an exhausted Rockhold march back out. Costa, however, was tiring as well. Rockhold continued to find success with his kicks, adding some spins. He went after an early takedown, but couldn’t do much with it. Costa began targeting the body, just as Rockhold had been. Rockhold landed a check hook. The former champ fired a tornado kick, and a spinning back kick. As exhausted as he was, Rockhold’s kicks were still deadly, and he was still technically sound. An eye poke by Rockhold briefly halted the action; Costa barely missed on a head kick towards the end of the round. The tables then turned, and Costa had Rockhold hurt along the fence. But a low blow halted the action, perhaps the most welcome low blow ever, as Rockhold needed recovery time.
The key, through two rounds, was that Costa had been the man walking forward. As good as Rockhold’s kicks were, whether high or low, it was Costa dictating the fight.
In the third round, an exhausted Rockhold might have been on his way out. That said, he tagged Costa repeatedly, while telling off the Brazilian. Costa tried spinning, and either slipped or was rocked a bit, either way he went down and Rockhold got on top, but was too anxious and Costa scrambled out. In the second half of the round, despite having some success on the feet, Rockhold shot for a takedown, and was stuffed. Costa got to side control, and later took the back, working for a rear-naked choke. Rockhold fought it off, then spun in and finished the round on top — rubbing his own bloodied face into Costa’s in a rather unique bit of offense that insulted more than it injured.
Ultimately, Costa would take the three-round decision, while Luke Rockhold would retire following the fight. In his interview with Joe Rogan, he expressed how much he had been through in recent years, adding “Thank you fighting, thank you UFC. Thank you Joe. I can’t do it anymore. I gave it my all. I’m f*cking old.”
Official Result: Paulo Costa def. Luke Rockhold by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)