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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 41’s Paulo Costa

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Brazilian powerhouse, Paulo Costa, will battle heavy-handed Italian, Marvin Vettori, this Saturday (Oct. 23, 2021) at UFC Vegas 41 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It’s been little more than one year since Israel Adesanya spanked (and then humped) Paulo Costa. It was a dominant and awful loss, one that sent “Borrachinha” scrambling away with his tail between his legs and glass of wine in hand. However, that defeat shouldn’t be enough to write off “The Eraser.” Prior to the loss, Costa was Middleweight’s hottest new prospect, an undefeated power puncher who thrived in grueling wars of attrition. Still ranked at No. 2 and just 30 years old, this main event slot will tell us a lot about whether or not Costa can effectively rebound from the loss.

Unfortunately, things aren’t looking too snappy, with Costa arriving in “Sin City” unable (or unwilling) to make the contracted 186-pound weight limit. Fortunately for him, as well as fight fans, Vettori is a crazy man who doesn’t care that he’s now set for a 205-pound showdown (read details here).

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 44 On ESPN+

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., Dec 4, 2021, with a thrilling Bantamweight contenders’ bout that will see No. 4-ranked Rob Font battle No. 5-seeded Jose Aldo. In UFC Vegas 44’s co-main event, No. 12-ranked Lightweight contender, Brad Riddell, squares off with No. 14-seeded Rafael Fiziev in a striking fan’s dream fight.

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

Striking

Costa is a formidable mix of brawn, body punching, and combinations.

There were 13 months between Costa’s fights with Uriah Hall and Yoel Romero, the only pair of challenges Costa really faced prior to his title shot. Though his tactics remained largely the same (and we’ll get to them) his overall improvement between those two fights was dramatic.

The difference all came down to form and posture. Against Hall, Costa was marching forward from a more squared stance, which is why Hall’s fast jab carved up his face. Clearly, Costa and his coaches took note of the problem then devoted a great deal of time to correcting the issue.

The solution they came up with was to sit heavier on his back leg and rest behind his lead shoulder. Romero did manage to land some straight shots, but that is the nature of being an aggressive fighter against a sharp counter puncher. As a result of Costa’s weight shift, his head was further back, and his shoulder deflected far more punches.

There were great offensive benefits to this adjustment as well. For example, Costa’s left hook that dropped Romero was a well-executed check hook. He simply sat back a bit deeper on his back leg and threw the hook up with his right hand glued tight, catching Romero reaching for his jaw.

It was a great punch (GIF)! On the whole, Costa was able to chain his power punches together more effectively by focusing on that shift of weight between front and back leg. He looked more like a boxer than a Muay Thai fighter who wanted to punch.

Interestingly, this stance shift did likely reveal more of Costa’s thigh to Adesanya. “Stylebender” did not land nearly as many jabs as Hall, but as a result of Costa sitting heavy on his back leg, Adesanya was able to often flash the lead hand before ripping into the thigh. After a round of those low kicks, Costa was desperate, and he ran directly into a counter shot.

Beyond the specifics of his stance, Costa’s style is simple enough: he bullies opponents. The Brazilian is confident in his power and durability, so he searches for close range exchanges whenever possible.

Costa’s money punches are unsurprisingly his left hook and cross, but Costa can step deep with a power jab. Really, one of the primary factors that sets Costa aside from others who try to bully opponents — besides his excellent physical attributes — is his commitment to body work.

Whenever Costa presses an opponent into the fence, he doesn’t wait long to target the mid-section. At first, this is likely to be a straight cross, which is a great weapon against a trapped opponent. However, as his foe fatigues a bit and becomes more stationary, Costa will really open up with a variety of body shots. He’ll rip the left hook to the liver off a slipped punch, and Costa does great work with the right uppercut into the ribs (GIF).

When Costa is releasing a stream of power punches and targeting both the head and body, it’s a real scary situation.

I don’t watch random international seasons of TUF, so my introduction to Costa — similar to most — was his destruction of Gareth McClellan in his UFC debut (GIF). Aside from him being gigantic, what actually stuck out most to me initially was his kicking game!

True to his Muay Thai background, Costa kicks quite hard, and he has a real knack for placement. He’s fought several Southpaws, which has often allowed him to fire hard kicks into the open side without pause, usually to the mid-section. However, Costa actually has an interesting habit of digging the right body kick on Orthodox opponents as well. That’s a tricky kick to land, as the viable target (ribs) is hidden between a pair of unenviable landing spots (elbow and hip).

Despite this, Costa throws the kick well enough that it lands often. He tried to employ this range weapon to keep up with Adesanya at distance, but since it’s his only real threat from that range, the experienced kickboxer was able to navigate it well.

One trick Costa employed well against Yoel Romero was to mix right snap kicks with his right round kicks. Whenever Romero was pressed into the fence but still at range, Costa would attempt to dig either the ball of his foot or his shin into Romero’s abs. Without the ability to step back, Romero was forced to guess which angle the kick was coming from, and it usually looked painful even when he answered correctly.

Wrestling

Costa has yet to attempt a takedown inside the Octagon.

Defensively, the Brazilian definitely leaves his hips exposed while marching forward — that’s the reality of frequently committing to big left hook swings and charging right hands. Being a little more sideways in his stance definitely helps avoid the double leg, but even so, opponents who want to time a shot underneath a Costa punch likely can.

Fortunately, it has yet to matter much, as controlling a strong man like Costa is not easy. Each and every time Costa’s backside has hit the mat, he’s immediately began scrambling up, framing at the face or using an overhook to stand. He’ll typically stand up into the clinch, where again, strength matters.

Against Romero, Costa only dealt with three takedown attempts, but he handled them well for the most part. In the first, Costa used a thigh pry to stall Romero’s forward momentum and force him to abandon the shot (GIF). The second shot landed at the very end of the second round, so the bell nullified any potential scrambling.

In the final real wrestling exchange between the two, Romero landed his signature inside trip. However, Costa still had an underhook from the clinch, which he promptly sat up into, nearly reversing the position entirely.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

If Costa never shoots himself and is only on the mat for seconds, it stands to reason I cannot learn much about his grappling. Officially, he’s a black belt, but it’s hard to say how much that means in the cage until we see it.

Conclusion

Costa’s ugly loss to Adesanya and post-fight antics make it easy to forget that the Brazilian was well on his way to becoming a star. This match up is a chance for Costa to make up for lost time, a chance to simultaneously reassert himself into the title mix by taking out a top-ranked foe and help erase the previous 13 months from public consciousness.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.