UFC 253: Adesanya vs. Costa Preview

A preview of Saturday’s UFC 253 card, set to take place in Abu Dhabi.

Updated: Sept. 25, 2020 • 7:10 AM ET

Yas Island in Abu Dhabi will host this weekend's UFC event.

A showdown for the middleweight title between undefeated champion Israel Adesanya and undefeated challenger Paulo Costa will main event UFC 253 this Saturday on Fight Island (Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi.

Adesanya is coming off his first title defense, a unanimous decision win over Yoel Romero at UFC 248 in March. While a handful of critics bashed the fight for a lack of action, criticism of the bout should have been expected when two fighters with similar styles step into the Octagon. Adesanya fought like he always does, playing his counter-striking game; but Romero, who is also a counter-striker, didn’t provide much offense.

Meanwhile, Costa is an aggressive fighter who is content with moving forward, which could work well for Adesanya — on paper. Hence, many of those same critics who lambasted Adesanya’s performance against Romero wait in joyous anticipation to see him fight Costa.

Adesanya won the middleweight title at UFC 243 last October with a second-round knockout of Robert Whittaker, this after storming through the UFC’s middleweight contenders in less than two years. In the process, he defeated ranked fighter Brad Tavares, long time contender Derek Brunson, legend Anderson Silva and Kelvin Gastelum in one of the best fights of all time.

There have been comfortable, back-and-forth verbal exchanges between Adesanya and Costa that you could call bad blood, but Adesanya believes he’s on a different level than his next opponent. With two undefeated fighters meeting on Saturday, Adesanya was asked if it could be the greatest middleweight fight of all time.

“Nope, I don’t think so,” Adesanya recently said during a media scrum. “Just, his resume doesn’t hold up enough. If you look at the guys he’s beat…he beat over-the-hill Johny Hendricks, no offense.

“He beat Uriah Hall, who was actually doing quite well in that fight, one of his better performances. But then Uriah Hall just succumbed to his will, because Uriah Hall sometimes breaks mentally. And he beat Yoel Romero, who is on the way out, anyway…I don’t think it’s going to be the greatest middleweight fight in history. I kind of already did that with Kelvin Gastelum, so I have that in my back resume.”

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Since beginning his professional MMA career in 2012, the 31-year-old Adesanya has amassed a 19-0 MMA record after previously putting together a 75-5 kickboxing record. He has an extensive resume, but doesn’t believe this fight with Costa will complete his legacy.

“I don’t want to downplay the stakes, I feel like it is an important fight,” Adesanya said. “It’s going to be a great showcase. People say ‘it’s Fight of the Year’ like Dana White said, but that’s only if he’s tough enough to actually take a beating from me for five rounds. But I just don’t think his gas tank is going to hold up.”

The No. 2 ranked Costa (13-0) is coming off a unanimous decision victory over Romero at UFC 241 in August, which was without a doubt the biggest win in his career. He gained MMA fans’ immediate attention with his shredded physique and desire to stand and bang with fighters, proving in his fight with Romero that he can withstand punishment. But does he have the ability to put together a real game plan against the champion?

“People are so fooled by muscles and big juice heads and think, aw that’s what a fighter looks like, especially the casuals because the casuals are the ones who pay your bills, they’re the ones that really go buy the (expletive),” Adesanya said. “Once they see the skinny clown, supposedly, beat this muscly baboon, then they’re like ‘What? But the skinny beat the muscly guy. How did he do that.’

“It’s going to blow their mind, especially in the fashion I’m going to do it.”

Costa understands the champion’s abilities, but claims he will not get sucked into his game.

“First of all, I think he’s a [counter-striker],” Costa said during a recent interview. “Everybody here saw when he fought Romero. If one guy doesn’t push him, he will not push out. He stood, the guy came for him.

“So I will try to push him, to bring him to the fight, but if he avoids the fight, I will not chase him all the time. I will go back to the middle and cut the angles, and try to make the fight happen.”

Co-main event

Saturday’s co-main event will be for the vacant light heavyweight title between former title challenger Dominick Reyes and veteran power puncher Jan Blachowicz.

Reyes, the UFC’s No. 1 ranked light heavyweight contender, is coming off a unanimous decision loss to former champion Jon Jones for the title at UFC 247 in February. The loss was the first of his pro career (12-1), but many pundits believe he won the fight.

Reyes wanted a rematch with Jones, but doesn’t believe he needs it to feel like a legitimate champion.

“To be completely honest, I could give a (expletive) less what anybody has to say about my belt,” Reyes recently told reporters at UFC 253 media day. “At the end of the day, I’ll have a gold belt and I’ll have the money to match. So F out of here with that.”

Now that Jones has vacated the belt to move up to heavyweight, Reyes has the perfect opportunity to start a new era in the light heavyweight division. He has key victories over Chris Weidman, Volkan Oezdemir, Ovince Saint Preux and Jared Cannonier; and if the 30-year-old becomes champion on Saturday, he’ll have plenty of contenders in a light heavyweight division that drastically changed when Jones made the move to heavyweight. Reyes, however, will have no easy task in Blachowicz.

The No. 3 ranked Blachowicz has won three straight fights with his last being a first-round knockout of longtime contender Corey Anderson in February, which avenged a loss to Anderson in 2015. The 37-year-old Blachowicz has fought in the UFC since 2014 with key victories over Ilir Latifi, Cannonier, Jimi Manuwa, Nikita Krylov, Luke Rockhold and Jacare Souza.

The Polish fighter is rolling with the punches amidst his first title shot.

“At the beginning when they said, ‘You’ve got a title shot’ – I was happy,” Blachowicz told reporters during media day. “Maybe I was a little bit disappointed it’s not Jon Jones, but after two days OK, it’s the belt, Dominick is also a great fighter, he almost beat Jon Jones in a really close fight, really close decision. So he’s one of the best, and I catch Jones later. But right now, I’m focused on Dominick.”

Blachowicz went on to express the extreme belief he has always had that he would one day become a UFC champion.

“I never think about that I’m not going to be a champion,” Blachowicz said. “I always believed in myself, believed in my skills. I just needed to find what goes wrong, I need to connect the dots and I find a way. I connect, correct it, and fight now I have  opportunity to be the champion. One more step.”

 

The rest of the main card on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. EST

Flyweight bout - No. 7 Kai Kara France vs. No. 9 Brandon Royval

Women’s bantamweight bout - No. 7 Ketlen Vieira vs. No. 13 Sijara Eubanks

Featherweight bout - Hakeem Dawodu vs. Zubaira Tukhugov

 

ESPN 2 Prelims at 8 p.m. EST

Lightweight bout - Brad Riddell vs. Alex da Silva

Welterweight bout - Diego Sanchez vs. Jake Matthews

Featherweight bout - Shane Young vs. Nate Landwehr

Light heavyweight bout - William Knight vs. Aleksa Camur

 

UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims at 7 p.m. EST

Heavyweight bout - Juan Espino vs. Jeff Hughes

Light heavyweight bout - Khadis Ibragimov vs. Danilo Marques

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