4 Ways Paulo Costa Can Beat Israel Adesanya at UFC 253
Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s hard.
Regardless, as a big UFC pay-per-view nears, the B/R combat sports team brainstorms ways the main event underdog can pull off an upset.
Our suggestion that Justin Gaethje could break through against Tony Ferguson looks good these days, while our long-shot cases for Felicia Spencer against Amanda Nunes and Jorge Masvidal over Kamaru Usman don’t.
This one’s somewhere in the middle.
According to odds posted by Caesars Palace, it'd take a $170 bet on Israel Adesanya to yield a $100 profit if the champ retains his middleweight title and a $100 wager on Paulo Costa to make $150 if the challenger wins.
If an upset occurs, it’d be noticeable but hardly earth-shattering.
Because neither man has lost in a combined 32 professional mixed martial arts matches—including 13 inside the Octagon—putting forth ways in which one man can take the other’s 0 is a bit of a task. But we like it that way. And since Costa is the underdog here, it’s his cause we’ll take up this time.
So, in the spirit of Holly Holm, Forrest Griffin and Keith Jardine—architects of three of the UFC's biggest surprises over Ronda Rousey, Shogun Rua and Chuck Liddell, respectively—we assembled a short list of ways in which the dangerous contender might walk away in title-winning style come Sunday morning.
If you're on Team Costa, click through to see if our ideas jibe with yours. And if you’re riding with the "Last Stylebender," don’t say we didn't warn you.
Win the Exchanges
There's a reason why 11 of the 13 opponents who've entered a cage with Costa haven't been around to hear the final horn. The guy can flat-out crack.
In a way that reduces opponents to limp noodles.
And while Adesanya is deservedly known as a master striker, his KOs are more often the result of well-placed shots and accumulations of them rather than single, fight-defining connections.
We're not suggesting that simply getting off the stool, walking toward the champion and winging punches at him is a guaranteed winning strategy. But if Costa is to win the fight, he's going to have to get superior mileage out of the exchanges every time they occur.
Control the Distance
Winning a title, particularly from an undefeated champion who's among the world's best at employing his strategy of choice, means imposing your will on him and making sure the fight unfolds on your terms.
And again, because Adesanya is a master at dissecting foes with punches and kicks from all angles, it becomes vital to make him as uncomfortable as possible.
That means getting close to him. Uncomfortably close.
He's three inches shorter in stature and has a far lesser reach (80 inches to 72) than Adesanya, but Costa is much thicker and has a sturdier frame than the champion and figures to have an advantage whenever the fighters are in close quarters—particularly if there's a clinch against the fence.
Doing damage there, whether by grinding his bulkier body against his opponent or landing "dirty" punches and knees that score points and inflict pain, is a necessity if he wants to exit the cage with a strap on his shoulder.
Change the Setting
This one follows a similar theme.
Facing such a talented matador means the bull has to do something other than just stay on the outside and wait for the sword strike.
Adesanya has never won a fight by submission and avoids the ground like the plague. And while Costa typically ends his fights on his feet as well, his aforementioned bulk and strength—not to mention a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu—make the prospect of a horizontal fight quite tantalizing.
It takes a big man to accept that a favorite go-to strategy—in Costa's case, hitting for power—may not be enough to get the job done. But if he is willing to swallow pride and vary his approach, it could reveal paths to victory that simply standing and striking would not.
If you tune in to see the fight in the midst of a prolonged ground stretch, chances are high that the Brazilian is in control.
Finish It Quickly
This one's as simple as doing the math. While Adesanya's record of 14 stoppages in 19 fights is impressive, it pales in comparison to Costa's run of 12 finishes in 13 fights.
In fact, only one opponent—Cuban behemoth Yoel Romero—has managed to get into the third round with Costa, and nine of those 13 foes haven't even completed five full minutes.
Adesanya, meanwhile, has had two fights go the scheduled three-round distance and has run the entire championship gauntlet, 25 minutes, three times. And in the most recent of those five-rounders, against the very same Romero, he landed his highest number of strikes in the final round.
The takeaway: If this thing gets to the middle or late rounds, it's not great for the challenger.
We're not at all suggesting that Costa's cardio is subpar or that he won't arrive on Saturday in competitive condition. But the numbers don't lie. Costa is a beast in the early going. Adesanya is a thoroughbred with a finishing kick. If you're the challenger, you want a messy, violent sprint.