UFC 253: What Makes Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa a Can't-Miss Event

UFC president Dana White has said countless times that Saturday’s middleweight title fight between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa at UFC 253 has his prediction for “Fight of the Year.”

“I think that fight is going to be an absolute war,” White said in August. “Just stylistically, it matches up really, really well, and both guys are animals. Both guys want this fight really bad, and I think it’s going to be ‘Fight of the Year.’”

There have been some incredible fights in 2020 that present stiff competition, but there’s no denying the UFC 253 main event between the champion Adesanya and challenger Costa is a unique pairing. It has all the elements to justify White setting such high expectations.

The 185-pound championship bout headlines the UFC’s first show in a five-week stretch of events at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, also known as “Fight Island.” The fight card, which also features a vacant light heavyweight title match between Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz in the co-main event, is available to stream live on ESPN+. Prelims start at 6:30 p.m. ET and are followed by the main card at 10:00 pm ET. UFC 253 is available exclusively to ESPN+ subscribers via pay-per-view.

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From a purely competitive standpoint, it’s as good as it gets. Not only will the winner leave with the belt, but the loser will exit with the first loss of his career. Boxing regularly sees undefeated athletes climb to the very top, but in MMA it’s a much more difficult task to reach the pinnacle without experiencing some type of setback.

That’s why this particular matchup is so special.

Adesanya (19-0 MMA, 8-0 UFC) vs. Costa (13-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) represents just the second men’s championship fight in UFC history in which both athletes are undefeated. It requires going back more than a decade to find the first instance, when Rashad Evans lost the 205-pound strap to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98 in May 2009.

Adesanya, 31, is on the cusp of being the UFC’s next big star. His rise has drawn comparisons to Conor McGregor, and although he’s a wholly different personality, Adesanya has the “it” factor.

A Nigerian-born fighter who now hails out of New Zealand, Adesanya made his promotional debut in February 2018. Within 20 months, the undisputed UFC belt was his. Adesanya was a kickboxer before switching to MMA, and his high-level skills on the feet have carried him to the top.

Going into UFC 253, Adesanya boasts top-five numbers in his division in both striking accuracy and defensive efficiency. He has the ability to be elusive, flashy and devastating, all in one sequence. His long limbs open up all sorts of opportunity to land unorthodox strikes, and it’s carried him to 19 consecutive victories.

Costa, 29, brings a different toolbox with him. The Brazilian powerhouse is essentially the antithesis of Adesanya, as he’s utterly gigantic for the weight class and relies on brute force to be effective. Costa looks as though he was chiseled out of marble, but it’s not all show with no go.

Costa is a fearless knockout artist who is never hesitant to close the distance, because all he needs is a clean shot. Out of his 13 wins, just one of his opponents has escaped the fight without being knocked out or submitted, and nine have failed to make it out of the first round.

This opportunity is a foreign to Costa, however, because he’s never been in a championship fight before. Costa’s best chance of winning would seemingly be in the early minutes, but if he’s able to maintain his strengths for all 25 minutes, a new champion could be crowned.

The anticipation for the UFC 253 headliner has been building for more than two years. Adesanya first mentioned his desire to fight Costa during in July 2018, and the pair have since been on a collision course. They both rose up the divisional ranks at the same time, and while this fight could’ve been made earlier, it’s always felt most appropriate when the stakes were highest.

Trash talk has been heavy out of both sides since they landed on each other’s radar. Adesanya has called Costa and “overly inflated balloon animal,” made accusations of his rival not being a clean fighter and frequently insulted Costa’s intelligence. Costa, for his part, has ripped Adesanya as a “skinny clown” who’s not as talented as people think, and vowed to punish him inside the octagon.

The venom between the two sides has a layer of legitimacy, but there’s also an underlying level of respect. They both seem to know what the other is capable of, and are professional enough to keep their emotions in check, even when running into each other at the host hotel in Abu Dhabi just days before sharing the octagon.

There’s going to be no positive vibes between Adesanya and Costa on fight night, though. Both men have said they have no intention to make peace after the fight, especially because this has the potential to become a multi-fight series. Title fights like this don’t come around often, and the UFC 253 main event is a can’t-miss.

UFC 253 takes place this Saturday, September 26 starting at 6:30 pm ET. Click here to stream UFC 253 live on ESPN+.

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