Here is what Paulo Costa will have to do to win at UFC 253.
in the last two years, number 2 contender Paulo “Borrachina” Costa has torn through the UFC middleweight division. Having hugely impressive wins over Johnny Hendricks, Uriah Hall, and Yoel Romero, Costa has proven that his reckless, powerful volume-striking is a problem that most fighters do not have an answer for. The undefeated contender is an anomaly of the sport, but there is no doubt that his fight this Friday against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is his biggest test in his career. Adesanya, who has become a formidable champion with only two years in the UFC, has looked spectacular in nearly every one of his eight fights in the UFC. Having a striking toolbox unlike the sport of MMA has ever seen, Adesanya’s counter-striking has helped him in beating the likes of Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero, Kelvin Gastelum, and Anderson Silva. If Costa hopes to avoid being another highlight on Adesanya’s highlight reel, there are a few adjustments that must be made going into this fight specifically. These are the five keys to victory for Paulo Costa.
These are Paulo Costa’s five keys to victory.
1. Keep his hands up
Although Costa has finished all of his opponents besides Yoel Romero, he has most definitely shown some weaknesses that could be exploited by Adesanya specifically. Usually, after the first or second round of the fight, Costa will often leave his hands down after throwing a combo, exposing him to be countered. You can see this exact thing happen in Costa’s fight with middleweight contender, Uriah Hall. Right before the end of the fight, Costa launches a vicious combo, dropping his hands briefly after. Hall, a great counter-striker, capitalizes on Costa’s mistake almost immediately, launching a punch that drops Costa. Luckily for Costa, Hall was already exhausted, and he completely gassed out soon after the punch landed. Costa needs to keep his hands up and be ready to disengage if he hopes to avoid this fate against Adesanya. If Costa can keep his hands up and maintain good defense throughout the fight, there is a much better chance of him winning.
2. Go to the body consistently
Probably the most impressive fold of Costa’s incredibly destructive game is his ability to vary his shots. The middleweight is exceptional at landing huge shots to the body in order to open up opportunities to land powerful head strikes. In his bout against Johnny Hendricks, Costa batters Hendricks’ body before eventually demolishing him with some well-placed straights and hooks. Costa should absolutely attempt to do the same thing with Adesanya. Adesanya’s distance control is far too good for Costa to head-hunt, but with a couple of rear kicks to the body, Adesanya would have to think about much more than just strikes to the head. If Costa can manage to maintain variation throughout the fight, the opportunity for a finish will present itself much sooner than it would if he exclusively head-hunts the champ.
3. Conserve energy
Plain and simple, Adesanya is a five-round fighter. out of all the fights in both his MMA and kickboxing, the majority of them have gone to decision. With Adesanya never been finished in MMA, Costa should not be expecting to make quick work of the champion. Costa will need to be prepared to go as many rounds as he needs to win, and in order to do that, he must conserve his energy better. In his fights against Romero and Hall especially, you can see that Costa is very tired by the end of both performances. While Costa still managed to grab the win in both of those fights, he will have to really make his energy last in order to be able to avoid Adesanya’s attacks later in the fight. If Costa can get his stamina to par, he should have a much easier time staying aware and being able to pressure Adesanya.
4. Well-placed pressure
Pound-for-pound, you will have a hard time finding a better pressure fighter than Paulo Costa. Costa’s combination of feinting and vicious striking puts fear into the hearts of his opponents. Adesanya, however, is someone who seemingly thrives when his opponents are too eager to try and pressure him. In fights like Adesanya vs. Whittaker, you get to see exactly what not to do against Adesanya. In the fight, Whittaker storms wildly at Adesanya, swinging to find an opportunity to land on his chin. That same tenacity is what allowed Whittaker to be countered and finished in only the second round of the fight. If Costa is to strike effectively, he must instead take a Kelvin Gastelum approach to fighting Adesanya. Gastelum chose to be very patient, almost lulling Adesanya into a false sense of security before rushing in with a well-placed punch or head-kick. Costa should attempt to practice patience in this fight, allowing Adesanya space, while sprinkling increments of high-intensity movement and power in moments where he can catch Adesanya out of position. If Costa can successfully emulate Gastelum’s game-plan in the striking department, he can expect to see much better results than if he throws wildly and constantly.
5. Use his size
When looking at Paulo Costa, one thing is apparent: this guy is hardly a middleweight. Having a physique that is closer to Francis Ngaunnou than to most middleweights, Costa is a pro at using his massive stature to bully his opponents in the clinch and while kickboxing. Costa should really attempt to also use this size against the lean Adesanya. Clinching up against the fence and trying to out-muscle Adesanya for an advantageous position is one of the more safe things Costa can do with the champ on the feet, as long as he watches for strikes while disengaging in the clinch. Trying to make Adesanya carry his weight might be one of the best strategies at tiring Adesanya out, and Costa will surely have to try it if he hopes to strike with Adesanya for more than three rounds.
UFC 253 takes place on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, live from UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Follow along with FanSided for all your live news and highlights.