The UFC caravan rolls back to Fight Island Abu Dhabi for 253, and the top end of the card looks set to deliver some monumental bouts.
The main event sees the undefeated Kiwi wunderkid Israel Adesanya (19 – 0) take on the undefeated Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa (13 – 0) and it promises to be a classic fight for the ages. There is no love lost between the opponents, and they have baited each other on various social media platforms for over a year.
Costa is most famous for his incredible physique and has been accused remorselessly throughout his career of utilising performance-enhancing drugs. He boasts a clean record thus far and wears the criticism as a badge of honour, a sign that his opponents are afraid. While current champion Adesanya is a once in a generation martial artist, we are giving Costa some hope of wresting the belt.
Adesanya is a fighter of surgical precision who uses his height and reach to slice his opponents from distance, and Costa is a wrecking ball who walks down his opponents, strides through their attack and defence to land his devastating strikes. While the rule for betting on MMA fights stipulates that you always bet on the tall skinny guy, Costa is a machine of such ferocious intensity that he poses a genuine threat to the champ.
We can draw a form line through the fights both men had versus Yoel Romero, another athlete known for his Greek God-like physique. The Romero vs Adesanya fight was a snooze-fest. Both men waited for countering opportunities, and less than a dozen blows landed across five rounds of tedium. Adesanya was commended for his cautious approach and never exposing himself to the knockout power of Romero.
The Costa vs Romero was a completely different encounter. Both men threw heavy leather, and Costa just kept coming like a brutish unstoppable force. He troubled Romero with huge strikes, and almost secured an impressive knockout. Adesanya is yet to face an opponent with the sheer heavy volume of Costa, and while Adesanya will surely catch the Brazilian with jabs and kicks from range, the champ might get rattled when Costa inevitably gets in close and unleashes his diabolical power.
The co-main event is another potential barn-burner and pits Dominic Reyes (12 – 1) against Polish strongman Jan Blachowicz (26 – 8) for the vacant light heavyweight belt. Jon Jones’ move to heavyweight opens a huge possibility for the combatants to climb to the top of the UFC heap and set themselves up for hefty paydays and wide scale notoriety. Reyes comes in as a healthy favourite after he arguably beat Jones on points back in February 2020. The controversial loss is the only blemish on the Reyes record, but he faces a very tough and willing opponent in the form of the surging Jan Blachowicz who is improving with every outing.
Reyes is a technical striker with knockout power who should probably have too many weapons, but Blachowicz is a threat to anyone. He possesses hefty power of his own and will look to land a single clean blow that ends the bout. The contest is more likely to end with a knockout finish than trouble the judges, but whoever wins will be a deserved replacement for the departed Jones.
The remainder of the fight card is a little patchy, but there may be some hungry up-and-comers ready to grab their opportunity on the big stage. With two belts on the line intriguing match-ups, UFC 235 will definitely be worthy of attention. Paulo Costa is not just a potential champion, but a big character who appears ready to become a bonafide superstar.
Jackson Byrne – UFC Correspondent