All zeros are not equal.
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya entered the title fight Saturday night with a record 19-0. His rival, Paulo Costa, is ranked 13-0. And when UFC 253’s main event kicked off and it was time for these two men to put their unbeaten record to the test, Adesanya completely outdid Costa.
And he did so in style, picking the strong Brazilian away from the start with kicks to the main leg, torso and head. Costa slowed down, lit his blood, then finished with a second round at 3:59 PM in the second round. Adesanya showed everything he had.
The champ and his opponent didn’t have nice things to say about each other in the run-up to this fight in the UFC’s comeback to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. But now that the fight between them is over, perhaps Adesanya should express a little gratitude to Costa for offering him a generous gift.
The Challenger stood directly in front of him in the center of the octagon, and fought.
Costa was never able to unleash the fury of moving his brand forward, which saw him end in all but one of his past fights. But he chased the champ early, absorbing a kick in the calf to come close from a distance. Costa never got off to Adesanya, as he was simply too far fetched and accurate with counterpunches and other punches. Costa tried to pull the hero forward, mocked him, tongue out, and put his hands behind his back. But Adesanya was not only very skillful for Costa, he was also very smart for him. He will not be stabbed in a quarrel.
Adesanya had a perfect fight, really, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The hero was agonizing to allow the flow of art that made him a must-watch attraction as he worked his way up the 185-pound hierarchy and took the oath. Last October night when Robert Whitaker was fired to become champ, “The Last Stylebender” was pure entertainment – even Before The title fight on his strike to the cage, tackling a record-breaking UFC crowd of 57127 in Melbourne, Australia, into a designer dance routine.
The brilliance from that night’s performance faded after five months, though, in Adesanya first title defense. His rival, Joel Romero, had previously embodied an all-out animosity in his fights, but against Adesanya in March, he barely took a step forward. Let this hero lead the dance. But Adesanya is at its best as an anti-punch, and during five boring rounds, it also appeared to stand in cement. It was a fleeting battle for spectators and a missed opportunity for the hero to build on his star power.
“I feel like this was a valley in my story,” Adesania told reporters last week. “This was my canyon, and now it’s time to go up again … This is when it will throw me into the next stratosphere.”
And on Saturday night, after performing out of this world, he said, “Just as Roy Jones said, I say, ‘You must have forgotten’ the reason for what happened last time.”
By fending off the Costa Challenge, Adesanya now has successive successful title defenses – like any fighter now wearing the UFC belt. The 31-year-old New Zealander who was born in Nigeria has distinguished himself as the hottest superhero.
Think about the other men who own UFC gold: Stipe Miocic, Jan Blachowicz, Kamaru Usman, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Alexander Volkanovski, Petr Yan, and Deiveson Figueiredo. All star fighters, but other than Nurmagomedov’s strangling crime, there aren’t many stylistic points at the top of the men’s game.
The most entertaining show we get from the current UFC champion – other than Adesanya – is the circular dance routine that Valentina Shevchenko performs after every inevitable defense of the flyweight crown. Her fight has a high grace, too. Other belt-wearing women, Amanda Nunes and Chang Wei, look a lot like most of their male counterparts: They fight heroes’ anger, letting the talk – and spin – of others.
On Saturday, Adesanya showed the same elegant flair that we started getting used to before the Romero mess. That should expand his already growing appeal among fans. None of them have been in UFC 253 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but in normal times the busy square will allow it to be known – out loud – what is most important to the paying customers. Typically, the volume inside a building is raised a few decibels when a fighter like Adesanya performs. Maybe the next time he defends his belt, we’ll be able to try that noise again.
However, as far as fan appeal matters in the fighter’s bank account, nothing is as important as winning. That’s what it takes to put a fighter at the top where STY points matter. Adesanya has ensured himself the spotlight going forward by flaunting the wit and balance it takes to fend off an unbeaten competitor who approaches relentlessly.
Adesanya focused the laser in the first round, seeing everything Costa threw his way and dodging most of it. And the hero was patient when he selected the Challenger who was unable to reach Adesanya and was unable to turn away from what was fired. Costa showed a brave face throughout the first round, trying to rule out the power of Adesanya’s kicks, but as the second round ends, you can practically see his confidence drained.
Adesanya was controlling every inch of the octagon and every second of the fight. This mastery could add up to a long time for him at the top of a middleweight mountain.
Saturday’s stylishly dominating victory was a big step forward in making fans want to watch this hero’s future unfold.