UFC 253: COVID-19 lockdown catalyst for Israel Adesanya's title defence against Paulo Costa

Auckland's most recent COVID-19 lockdown could prove the catalyst Israel Adesanya needs to defend his UFC crown later this month.

The middleweight champion puts his title on the line against Brazilian Paulo Costa on September 27, most likely in Las Vegas.

Adesanya will be joined by three of his teammates on the UFC 253 card, with all four spending two weeks in a gym 'bubble', before the city was released from Level 3 lockdown.

'The Last Stylebender' is upbeat about his confinement at Auckland's City Kickboxing Gym, calling it a "bonding" experience that will bring the best out of him against his fiery opponent.

"Just having no distractions has been good for us as a team," Adesanya says. "We have bonded as a team, the morale is high and our skillsets have upgraded. 

"That two weeks in lockdown is the catalyst of what will go down come September 26."

The challenge ahead of the undefeated champion is formidable - Costa is undefeated in 13 professional fights, with 12 stoppages inside the distance. 

He hits hard and provides unwavering pressure that all his Octagon opponents have crumbled under, but Adesanya sees holes in the Costa gameplan and plans on exposing all of them in two weeks.

"He's a perfect opponent for me," he says. "He's too dumb to come with anything different. 

"He's going to come forward like a buffoon - just like he always does - and swing, and I'm going to clown him.

"What will be his downfall is his opinion of me. He thinks he is going to walk through whatever I throw at him - I welcome that, because he is in for a big surprise."

Some analysts predict the fight will be the toughest test of Adesanya's mixed martial arts career, but the Nigerian-Kiwi disputes that, pointing to a stellar kickboxing career, where he lost just five times in 80 fights. 

Since making the switch to MMA fulltime in 2015, the 31-year-old has improved his career record to 19-0, winning the UFC crown last October.

"He’s not one of the best [strikers] - not even close. I’ve faced way better strikers. 

"In the UFC, he’s definitely not the best striker. I think [Anderson] Silva is a better striker than him, 

"[Robert] Whittaker is a different striker than him, but can be better, so he’s not the best striker I’ve fought, but he’s dangerous. 

"But you have to remember - or he has to remember - so am I. When I go in there and dust him up, it will look sick as f***k."

Paulo Costa
Paulo Costa Photo credit: Getty

The two cage warriors have staged a very personal beef, trading insults at press conferences and through social media for more than a year. Costa was once quoted as saying he wouldn't blink if Adesanya died at his hands, although he later claimed he was mistranslated.

Regardless, the bad blood is very real, with Adesanya doubling down on accusations that Costa is a drug cheat.

The 29-year-old was suspended for six months in 2019 for receiving prohibited intravenous infusions, but has since claimed he was given bad advice from his physician.

Approaching his 106th professional combat sports fight, Adesanya believes his experience will ultimately prove the difference between the two middleweight kingpins.

"I've been doing this a long time. I just go in there and do my job, and turn down all the extra noise bullshit that doesn't matter. 

"I've been here many times and he hasn't -  that's the difference."

Join Newshub for live updates of UFC 253 on Sunday, September 27