Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa: A Head to Toe Breakdown

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2020

Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa: A Head to Toe Breakdown

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    Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

    UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has enjoyed an incredible run in the sport, but the 31-year-old will face his toughest test to date at UFC 253 against 29-year-old Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa.

    Both Adesanya and Costa are undefeated across all MMA promotions, so one of them will leave the main event of UFC 253 with the first loss of his career.

    UFC 253: Adesanya vs. Costa takes place on Saturday, September 26, at a location to be determined. The card will be available for streaming in the U.S. exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.

    But how do the UFC's two best middleweights stack up against each other?

    And which of the two terrific strikers will walk away from UFC 253 with UFC gold in hand?

    Here's Bleacher Report's head-to-toe breakdown.


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    Adesanya and Costa are excellent strikers, but who has the edge?
    Adesanya and Costa are excellent strikers, but who has the edge?Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

    Adesanya is one of the most celebrated strikers in the UFC. The Nigerian-born New Zealander has appeared to be a striking savant operating in his prime. Adesanya went 75-5 as a professional kickboxer and 5-1 as a professional boxer before starting his MMA career. Those two backgrounds married quite nicely with his lean and athletic frame to form what has become an incredibly gifted UFC champion.

    But Costa is no slouch on his feet. While the Brazilian uses a slightly less technical approach than Adesanya, the powerful striker knows what his best assets are and how to use them in MMA fighting. Costa is a gifted pressure fighter who overwhelms his opponents with his incredible power. He punches and kicks hard to the head and body, and he enters UFC 253 averaging 8.43 strikes landed per minute, which is more than any other fighter in UFC history.

    Overall, Adesanya is a masterful striker who would probably defeat Costa in a kickboxing match. But UFC 253 won't be that, so Costa will likely find himself much more evenly matched with Adesanya on his feet than most observers might expect.

    Regardless, Adesanya will enjoy a slight edge due to his natural creativity and more well-rounded experience.

    Edge: Adesanya


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    Both fighters prefer staying on their feet, but grappling is still important.
    Both fighters prefer staying on their feet, but grappling is still important.Associated Press

    Adesanya almost exclusively relies on his stalwart striking skills in UFC fights. In fact, just about everything else about his style is geared toward keeping the champion on his feet, which is something he's done an outstanding job of so far in the UFC. For example, Adesanya's 86 percent takedown defense, per ranks second highest in the history of the division.

    Costa also relies heavily on striking. He's only attempted one takedown in five UFC fights, and that takedown wasn't even successful. But Costa's takedown defense is also strong— has it at 80 percent. On top of that, it's much less imperative for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to stay on his feet than his UFC 253 opponent.

    Costa's more powerful frame and experience with jiu-jitsu grappling will likely make him the better overall grappler than Adesanya on fight night should the two strikers end up on the ground.

    Edge: Costa


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    What are the chances of a submission win?
    What are the chances of a submission win?Associated Press

    Adesanya avoids going to the ground, and he's never won a fight via submission. As previously noted, his game is built around his incredible striking skills, so he works predominantly on avoiding takedowns and submission attempts. When he encounters those situations in fights, Adesanya's moves are predominantly designed to get him back to his feet.

    Costa also loves to stay on his feet, but he enters UFC 253 having one submission win under his belt, although it came before he began his UFC career. Regardless, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will most assuredly have a better chance of scoring the submission win over Adesanya at UFC 253 than vice versa.

    Edge: Costa


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    Both fighters bring significant X-factors to the Octagon.
    Both fighters bring significant X-factors to the Octagon.Associated Press

    Adesanya's X-Factor: Counters

    Adesanya's X-factor will be how cleanly he can counter his opponent with hard strikes. If UFC 253: Adesanya vs. Costa comes down to one single element, it will likely be that.

    Adesanya will have to be able to hit Costa hard and clean enough to keep the relentless challenger from coming forward. If he can do that, the champ will be able to retain his title. But if he can't keep the hulking menace from moving toward him, it will be a long night for the kickboxer.


    Costa's X-Factor: Pressure

    Costa is a pressure fighter, but that doesn't mean he's not clever. While much is made of his incredible power and his equally impressive belief in that power, Costa is also adept at throwing feints and keeping his opponents guessing about where he's about to zap them on fight night.

    Against Adesnaya, Costa will need to be wary enough of the champ's counters to keep himself safe but not too wary that he repeats Yoel Romero's mistake at UFC 248 that ended up giving the champion an easy path to victory.


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    Who will take home UFC gold?
    Who will take home UFC gold?Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    UFC 253: Adesanya vs. Costa promises to be an epic battle between two undefeated fighters in their primes. Moreover, the two fighters employ competing styles that should blend nicely into an aesthetically pleasing firefight.

    No matter who wins on the night, an exciting fight will be important for the UFC middleweight champion moving forward. It's one thing to win. It's another thing to entertain. UFC fans expect both.

    Adesanya vs. Costa will come down to which fighter can either eat or dodge his opponent's punches and kicks without waking up on the floor.

    Adesanya has been a huge bright spot in the UFC over the last couple of years, but Costa's incredible power, relentless pressure and granite chin will likely earn him the nod by the ringside scorers. He's younger, stronger and seems to have more weapons at his disposal that can win him the fight.

    Prediction: Costa beats Adesanya via split decision.


    Unless otherwise noted, all stats via UFC Record Book