Styles make fights. It is an adage as old as the sport of mixed martial arts itself. The intrigue surrounding the fight between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa at UFC 253, forgetting for a moment about the animosity brewing between the two, has made their upcoming encounter one of the most anticipated middleweight title bouts in recent memory. Adesanya has built his reputation as one of the most unconventional strikers in the division, switching between offense and defense with incredible ease and conviction.
His extensive background in kickboxing has made him a lethal striker, being able to adapt to situations with finesse; he can just as easily switch stances to southpaw, creating spaces between himself and his opponent. His versatility and ability to throw strikes from any position makes him a dangerous opponent for virtually anyone, while Adesanya, more often than not, shows more patience than his opponents. Time and instinctive, reactionary movements give Israel Adesanya the edge over most of the fighters in the middleweight division.
This weekend on Yas Island, Adesanya faces someone that, many believe, has the power and the ability to knock out the champion. What makes Costa a dangerous opponent is his method of madness. While he often goes for the kill, swarming his opponents once he hurts them with his patented overhand right, Costa also had the ability to read the situation and change his game plan mid-fight.
He often works behind his check hooks and feints, before pressuring his opponent against the cage and going in for the kill. Costa also throws crushing body kicks when he wants to keep his opponents at bay and not engage in clinches, and one feels he has to do that quite a lot this weekend, given Adesanya’s expertise in close spaces.
Adesanya’s Strengths – Clinch and Close Range Strikes
Adesanya’s kickboxing pedigree, clinch game, and the ability to throw kicks either with his lead leg or his trailing leg makes him a nightmare for any fighter. Not to mention the array of weapons in his arsenal, when given even the minute of space between — or separation from — his opponent. We witnessed a very cautious and reserved Adesanya against Yoel Romero, as he did not want to get close to Yoel and fight on his terms on the ground. But “The Last Stylebender” also proved that he is as good of a counter-striker as he is an aggressor, and his fight IQ lets him rely on lateral movement to take away the power shots from his opponent.
Israel Adesanya will, once again, be cautious against Costa. Adesanya will try to lure Costa into chasing him, setting traps, and will try to find openings in Costa’s game. While Paulo Costa did mention that he won’t be chasing Adesanya, Israel does not have to fight Costa on the challenger’s terms.
Paulo Costa’s Strengths – Pressure and Takedowns
Costa has often relied on pressure and running down his opponents, cutting down angles to trapping them against the fence during fights. While Costa welcomes a dog fight, where he can rely on his power to knock his opponent out, Borrachinha also shows impressive range control when trying to reset. His fight with Uriah Hall is an excellent example of Costa falling back to his check hooks and feints to create openings, and once he cuts down the angle and traps his opponent between the cage and himself, that is when he unloads with a flurry of punches while walking down aggressively.
While pressure-fighting is in Costa’s DNA, he will be wary of Adesanya’s clinch game if he gets too close to the champion, and wouldn’t want to find himself in a battle for underhooks, with Adesanya throwing those debilitating knees to the midsection.
Another strength that Costa could likely rely on, however implausible it may seem at this point, is his jiu-jitsu. In fact, Costa is a former Mineiro jiu-jitsu champion, and holds a black belt in BJJ, and has been training with his brother from a very young age. However, the reason why we haven’t seen Borranchinha rely on his ground game as much during his fights is because when he did during TUF 3, he gassed out almost immediately, and lost the fight by split decision. Fighting at the highest level where even the smallest slip-up can end in a devastating loss, Costa has always relied on his power, and his ability to throw his opponents into deep waters to pick up the win. However, against Adesanya, he might want to do something different and use his excellent level changes to take Israel down.
That said, Adesanya also has an incredible takedown defense, but given Costa’s proficiency in BJJ, it will be intriguing to see if the challenger decides to take the fight in a different direction.
Going into the fight, many see this as a “power versus precision” contest. However, it can quickly become a battle of attrition, and if you were a betting man, it would be difficult to bet against Adesanya, who keeps on improving with every fight.