UFC 253: Israel Adesanya predicts 'a performance of the year' against Paulo Costa, with Abu Dhabi expected to host

'It’s like David and Goliath' says unbeaten middleweight champion

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)
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Israel Adesanya has vowed to deliver on his billing in next month’s eagerly anticipated middleweight title defence against Paulo Costa – a clash Dana White has tipped to become the UFC’s fight of the year.

The Nigerian-born New Zealander takes on his fellow undefeated rival in the headline bout at UFC 253 on September 27. Although the event's location has yet to be confirmed, it is expected to take place at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

Adesanya, whose professional mixed atrial arts record stands at 19-0, will make the second defence of his title against the powerhouse Costa, who is yet to be beaten in 13 pro outings. The pair have been involved in a heated public spat for some time.

However, even given the claim from UFC president White, Adesanya anticipates a stellar performance simply from his side of the octagon. He has already been involved in a fight of the year, when he came through a gruelling test last year against Kevin Gastelum.

On his match-up with long-time foe Costa, Adesanya told reporters at the UFC 253 virtual media day early Wednesday: “I think a performance of the year, shutout of the year, shutdown of the year maybe. Fight of the Year? I’ve already had that in my back pocket, but if it happens again … I don’t think it’s going to happen just because of the situation.

“You have to be smart enough to put it together. This guy gasses after the first round. We have five rounds. Look at me in all my fights in the fifth, the fourth, the third, the later rounds, I’m always fresh. So precision is going to be the key to this fight. Precision, skill and just taking him out one by one.”

Adesanya, 31, is keen to rebound from a disappointing display against Yoel Romero at UFC 248 in March, when he retained his belt by unanimous decision. Hyped as another potential classic, Romero's reluctance to come forward led to a frustratingly flat fight, with Adesanya being criticised for his inaction too.

Now five months on, he is determined to right that wrong.

“This is perfect,” Adesanya said. “What I was expecting from my last fight is going to happen this fight. In my story, you just can’t have it going good and going great. You need a dip ...

“After the last fight, the performance that Yoel Romero brought, he was lacklustre. I’ve never been in a boring fight in my life. I had all this criticism, justly or unjustly. That was a dip, and now this is the rise back.

“What better antagonist than this guy [Costa], who was undefeated, a [knockout] artist, he looks the way he does, ballooned up. It’s like David and Goliath ... As they say: ‘Someone’s 0 has got to go’. It’s a beautifully set up story. You couldn’t write this. You could, but it’s real.”

Dana White Exclusive: Khabib will be next Fight Island headliner

Dana White Exclusive: Khabib will be next Fight Island headliner

Adesanya also reiterated his desire to eventually move up to heavyweight – a switch that brings closer a money-spinning meet with Jon Jones. The American, considered the greatest UFC athlete of all time, vacated his light heavyweight title this week to jump a division following years of teasing it. Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz will now face off for the lightweight belt next month, also at UFC 253.

“Look how long it took him to move up to heavyweight,” Adesanya said. “Finally. He was expecting me to do it straight away, but I hadn’t defended my belt yet. I’ve defended my belt twice now; I’m going to defend it a few more times and then do what I set out to do.

"But the pot calling the kettle black on his part. Go put some muscle on your chopstick legs and go fight Francis Ngannou and watch him break you. I hope he doesn’t, though. Maybe he does. Who knows?”