The UFC may just have a blockbuster on its hands with the middleweight matchup between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa. At least that's what the organization is hoping with the two undefeated men fighting for The Last Stylebender's middleweight title.
Combat sports is filled with potentially great fights that either never materialized or didn't happen at the right time. However, Adesanya vs. Costa are meeting with unblemished records with both squarely in their primes. Both have made their names by being knockout artists with contrasting styles, and they've spent plenty of time jawing at one another to add an extra level to the rivalry.
The light heavyweight belt is also up for grabs Saturday. With Jon Jones vacating the title, it will be either Dominick Reyes or Jan Blachowicz who kicks off the post-Jones era with the championship.
Main Card (ESPN+ PPV at 10 p.m. ET)
- Israel Adesanya -186 ($186 bet wins $100) vs. Paulo Costa +151 ($100 bet wins $150)—middleweight championship fight
- Jan Blachowicz +215 vs. Dominick Reyes -265—light heavyweight championship fight
- Kai Kara-France -240 vs. Brandon Royval +188
- Sijara Eubanks +150 vs. Ketlen Vieira -190
- Hakeem Dawodu +115 vs. Zubaira Tukhugov -143
Prelims (ESPN2/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET)
- Alex da Silva +253 vs. Brad Riddell -335
- Jake Matthews -715 vs. Diego Sanchez +470
- Ludovit Klein -129 vs. Shane Young +108
- Aleksa Camur -167 vs. William Knight +134
Early Prelims (ESPN2/ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET)
- Juan Espino -305 vs. Jeff Hughes +233
- Khadis Ibragimov -186 vs. Danilo Marques +150
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Can Adesanya Negate Costa's Power?
Israel Adesanya has fought some powerful strikers in his career. Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero and even the old version of Anderson Silva that he defeated all had fight-changing power, but Adesanya was able to avoid big shots from all three.
Costa is a different challenge, though. While all three of those opponents either look to counter or are conservative strikers, Costa has made his reputation as a striker on sheer volume. He pushes an incredible pace for someone of his stature.
The Eraser will rip shots to the body and head in combinations until he takes his opponent's will. Where the fight takes place will be something to keep tabs on. Costa is going to want to back Adesanya up the cage, but it is in the champion's best interest to circle out and force things to take place in the middle of the Octagon, where multiple escape routes are available to him.
Adesanya's kicking game gives him an advantage in that regard. Costa will throw high kicks, but his kicking isn't as nuanced as the champion's.
If Costa can find a way to corner Adesanya, he could spring the small upset. If Adesanya is able to control the pace and distance at which the fight takes place, though, he will retain in perhaps the most impressive win of his career.
Prediction: Adesanya via decision
Can Reyes Establish Light Heavyweight Dominance?
The light heavyweight division hasn't been a bastion of parity in recent UFC history. Jon Jones has essentially held the title for as long as his behavior outside of the cage would allow him. The only other man to hold the title over the better part of a decade is Daniel Cormier.
That will come to an end Saturday night, as Cormier is retired and Jones is eyeing a move to the heavyweight division.
For many, Dominick Reyes is already the uncrowned champion of the division. His fight against Jones was as close as a decision can get, with the Devastator getting the better of Bones at several points in the bout.
In Blachowicz, he faces a much different challenge. Reyes showcased his ability to win a kickboxing match at range against Jones. The former champ is the greatest fighter of all time at that range, and he was still able to win the fight, even if the decision was hotly debated.
The Polish contender won't look to fight at that range, though. He wants to move into boxing distance and unleash his power.
Reyes' athleticism could be the deciding factor in this one. He's good enough to fight off his back foot and force Blachowicz to come after him. If he's able to do that and avoid the big shot, he'll score a decisive decision win.
Prediction: Reyes via decision
Can Kai Kara-France or Brandon Royval Make the Flyweight Division Interesting?
It's felt like the flyweight division has been in danger since Demetrious Johnson was traded to ONE FC. It was an unprecedented move that seemed like a death knell to a division that has rarely carried a pay-per-view card or garnered much attention.
Even the height of Henry Cejudo's popularity came when he moved up to 135 pounds to become Triple C.
Now the division moves on, with one of the biggest fights it can make a bout between current champion Deiveson Figueiredo and career bantamweight Cody Garbrandt. That's not a great sign for the weight class.
What would help is if the division could generate its own interesting challengers, so the flyweight bout between Kai Kara-France and Brandon Royval becomes an interesting component to the main card.
Royval caught attention with a submission win over Tim Elliott in his first UFC fight. Now he makes his second appearance on pay-per-view as the lead-in to a championship doubleheader.
He'll play the role of underdog to the more experienced Kara-France. The 27-year-old is 4-1 in five UFC appearances, with his only loss coming at the hands of Brandon Moreno, who is a future title challenger in his own right.
This is a classic matchup of striker vs. grappler. Kara-France is the superior kickboxer and should win on points if he manages to keep the fight upright. However, Royval is a slick submission artist, and it could take just one trip to the ground for him to score the submission.
Prediction: Royval via second-round submission