Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa UFC 253 title fight confirmed with Abu Dhabi front-runner to host

Headline bout for September 26 event announced during Sunday morning’s UFC 252

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The UFC middleweight title bout between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa has been set for September 26, with Abu Dhabi believed to be front-runner to host.

The world’s lead mixed martial arts promotion announced the UFC 253 headliner during Sunday morning’s UFC 252, where Stipe Miocic retained his heavyweight belt to close out his trilogy with Daniel Cormier.

Although the location for Adesanya-Costa has yet to be confirmed, it seems likely to kick-start another Fight Island run for the UFC in the UAE capital following last month’s inaugural series.

Hugely successful, the initial Fight Island featured four events at Flash Forum across a 15-day period, beginning with UFC 251 on July 12.

Asked directly following UFC 252 whether he could confirm where Adesanya-Costa would take place, UFC president Dana White replied: “Not yet.”

However, Abu Dhabi appears most obvious. White told The National last month that the capital would host all of the sport's major title bouts featuring international fighters as the UFC continues to stage high-profile events during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the same interview, White said the next Fight Island would provide the setting for the upcoming unification bout between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim title-holder Justin Gaethje. That encounter has since been confirmed for October 24 (October 25 in the UAE), although once more the location has not been made public.

When asked by The National on Sunday about Adesanya-Costa opening the second Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi – the event would fall on September 27 in the UAE – local organisers said nothing had been confirmed on their side.

Irrespective of where UFC 253 plays out, White expects the headline encounter to live up to its blockbuster billing. Both champion Adesanya and No 2-ranked contender Costa are unbeaten, with the Nigerian-born New Zealander boasting a 19-0 professional record. His Brazilian opponent, meanwhile, sits at 13-0.

The pair, slated to meet earlier this year only for Costa to withdraw through injury, have been embroiled in a heated public rivalry outside the octagon.

“I don’t know what you guys think, but that’s fight of the year,” White said at Sunday's post-fight conference. “I’m very excited with what’s coming up in the fall. We have a ton of fun fights, and like I said, Adesanya versus Costa right now is the fight of the year. I predict that’s going to be an incredibly badass fight.

“Stylistically, it’s the perfect fight. If you look at the way Costa fights, he puts pressure on you, stays in your face the whole time. Adesanya likes to stay on the outside and pick you apart.

“It matches up really, really well. Both guys are animals. Both guys want this fight really bad. That fight’s going to be an absolute war.”

White said last week that he envisages the next Fight Island to take place across "five or six weeks". Designed primarily to allow the UFC's international athletes to compete during the pandemic, Fight Island is considered an “extension” of the five-year deal signed last year between the promotion and Abu Dhabi.

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, left, of Nigeria, works on his timing with coach Andrei Paulet during UFC 248 open workouts, in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)