UFC 253: And still! Israel Adesanya destroys Paulo Costa to defend UFC middleweight title

Kiwi Israel Adesanya has continued his staggering ascent with an emphatic second-round technical knockout of Paulo Costa to defend his middleweight title at UFC 253 on Sunday (NZ time).

The Kiwi-Nigerian completely outclassed and outmanoeuvred the Brazilian to complete his second successful defence and extend his undefeated run to 20-0 (9-0 UFC), while handing Costa the first loss of his 14-fight career.

The victory further cements Adesanya's place as one of the sport's pound-for-pound best, propelling his star further into the stratosphere as one of the UFC's most valuable, marketable, and recognisable stars.

After all off the talk and posturing from both sides over the past year, it quickly became apparent that Costa was no match for 'The Last Stylebender'.

Adesanya used his height and reach advantage to perfection, maintaining range and softening Costa up with a devastating array of leg kicks, before beginning the fight-ending sequence with a stinging head kick, a left hand, then swooping with shots from above to force the referee to step in.

"I've been telling you guys," Adesanya said post-fight. "Like Roy Jones said, ya’ll must have forgot. Ya'll must have forgot."

To add a dose of demoralising salt to the Brazilian's wounds, Adesanya finished mounted on Costa's back, giving him a few gentle nudges as a parting shot.

The tone was set from the beginning, with the bad blood between the two meant there was never any chance of a pre-fight fist bump.

Adesanya established his range quickly and went to work on Costa's lead leg, pulverizing it with shots on all levels - roundhouses, calf, knee kicks - that immediately caused it to redden and welt.

Costa seemed to struggle to shake off the rust off his lengthy 14-month layoff, struggling to find a way to close the gap to produce any effective offence.

Costa looked so tentative that, at one stage, both fighters paused, Adesanya pointing at his adversary and yelling "Romero", referring to the lack of output from the Cuban during their bout back in March.

His only answer was to charge in with leaping kicks, and while some found their mark, they were almost always met with a counter-left or right straight hand from Adesanya.

Meanwhile, Adesanya remained patient and calculated, as Costa began to wilt under the barrage of leg kicks.

Late in the second round, a searing right head kick found its mark, splitting Costa open on his right eyebrow. Smelling the ensuing  blood, Adesanya came forward with multiple combinations, which proved the beginning of the end for the Brazilian.

Adesanya's post-fight comments showed there's no love lost with Costa, with whom he's had a running verbal and social media battle for almost two years.

"I still don’t like him," Adesanya said. "I don’t know him personally, I don’t wish he dies or anything. He’s alive, I let him be alive. 

"This is the game we play, this is violence and I told you guys that it was going to be violent and I said it, it's going to be violent and it's going to end fast, and that's what I did.

"I'm fresh. I can go next weekend, I can go anytime. I want to spend time with my family because it’s been a crazy year, so I want to go spend time with my people."

Adesanya has his hand raised in victory.
Adesanya has his hand raised in victory. Photo credit: Getty

Looking ahead, Adesanya left no doubt who he wants to defend his belt again next, calling out American Jared Cannonier.

Cannonier will fight former champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 254 on October 25.

"I already DM'd Jared Cannonier," screamed Adesanya. "He’s a hell of a dude. I love his energy. He’s a beautiful man,” Adesanya said. “I said you destroy Robert Whittaker and you’re next.

"He's the one I want to fight next. He deserves it. If he beats Robert Whittaker handily and dominates him, he's next."

The powerful 36-year-old wrestling specialist is riding a three-right win streak, all coming via stoppage.

Adesanya's victory ensured the night ended on a positive note for the New Zealand fighters, splitting results with two wins and two losses between the four City Kickboxing combatants in action.

On the main card, flyweight Kai Kara-France fell to a second-round submission loss to Brandon Royval. Earlier in the preliminary card, featherweight Shane Young was quickly vanquished in a first-round knockout loss to Ludovit Klein, while lightweight Brad Riddell impressed with a unanimous decision win over Alex Da Silva.

Adesanya was also awarded the 'Performance of the Night' bonus, pocketing an extra $US50,000 ($NZ76,500) for his efforts, while Kara-France won the same amount after claiming 'Fight of the Night'.