Paulo Costa fights like he’s an NFL linebacker on a blitz who has to get to the quarterback before he can hit the open receiver streaking down the field.
The unbeaten Brazilian is always going as fast as he can with as much evil intent as he can deliver, whenever he’s in the cage, whether it’s in a title match or a bout on the preliminary card.
He’ll face Israel Adesanya on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) in Abu Dhabi in the main event of UFC 253 for the middleweight title and he’ll do it his way.
“I’m going out there to finish him,” Costa told Yahoo Sports. “I’m coming to show who I am. What I came here to do is to finish this guy and become the face of [the UFC].”
Not surprisingly, the early days of his style were formed by watching tapes of one of his countrymen, Wanderlei Silva.
Costa, 29, got into MMA by watching DVDs of PRIDE and UFC fights. He was motivated by several fighters, but none moreso than Silva. "The Axe Murderer" is one of the most entertaining fighters in the sport’s history and he went as hard as he could for as long as he could each time out.
Costa is 13-0 going into his title shot, and the only fight he didn’t finish was his last one, a decision over Yoel Romero at UFC 241 on Aug. 17, 2019. In his other 12 fights, he scored 11 knockouts and 1 submission, and ended his first nine pro bouts in the first round.
He said he was inspired as a young man by the exploits of his countrymen such as Silva, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Anderson Silva and twin brothers Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
But he owes much of his approach to Wanderlei Silva.
“Those guys pushed into me, into my mind, my sense of style as a fighter,” Costa said. “When I saw those guys fight, it made me so excited and it inspired me to try to do that, to bring back the old-school Vale Tudo fighting. I like the way they did it in the old days.”
He can’t, though, just attack wildly with no strategy, because Adesanya is a brilliant strategist and expert counter-striker. Costa’s plan is to apply pressure, but what he calls “smart pressure.”
He’s not interested in wading into Adesanya’s zone and have the champion land a few then dance out of the way. And he’s not going to fight Adesanya the way Yoel Romero did at UFC 248.
“If I just went there and stood in front of Adesanya the way Romero did, it would be the exact same fight and who would want to see that?” he said. “I’m a guy who you know is going to bring the fight, but I’m not going to do it like a dumb man and just go run at him. No, that’s not going to happen.
“I’m an educated fighter and I know I have to use my mind as well as my [physical] skills. I am a very good and smart striker. People will see that I’m not just a strong man. I am a very smart guy and I know how to set up a plan and execute it.”
Costa said the 30-foot cage that will be used in Abu Dhabi, as opposed to the 25-foot cage that is used in Las Vegas at Apex, will give Adesanya more room to move and create angles.
But Costa said it’s a misnomer to believe that he’ll just allow Adesanya to stick and move.
“He’s going to try to run away a lot, we know this,” Costa said. “He wants to avoid the collision, but he cannot do that forever. Whether it’s the first round or the second round, I’m going to get him into position where he can’t avoid the fight and that will be the opportunity for me to show who is the best in this game.”
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