In epic bout, go with Adesanya over Costa

By Lou Finocchiaro  () 


This week’s UFC main event at Fight Island between middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and No. 1-ranked contender Paulo Costa needs little introduction. Early in my fascination with fights, I was drawn to Angelo Dundee and began studying the great boxing cornerman and trainer who worked with Muhammad Ali and several other world-class boxers. Dundee was famous for quipping that “styles make fights.”

Saturday’s main event is the epitome of styles making fights. In many ways I believe this matchup is quite similar to the three fights Ali endured with Joe Frazier as well as his battle with George Foreman in Zaire.

Last week we bailed ourselves out of an 0-3 performance when Colby Covington finished Tyron Woodley in Round 5. That .5u position at + 275 allowed us to minimize any real loss. For the event we’ll record a 1-2 <.12> u result.

2020 Insight the Octagon profitability: 30-18 + 17.9u

Abu Dhabi hosts the UFC’s next several Fight Island productions. Remember that the larger 30-foot cage is used there, and I believe the extra square footage is a substantial advantage for fluid fighters who use movement and spacing to their favor.

Israel Adesanya -170 vs. Paulo Costa + 150, middleweight (185 pounds), championship

The undefeated Costa (13-0) of Brazil must earn his championship belt from a man who happens to be the undisputed, undefeated middleweight champion.

The magnitude of a championship bout featuring two undefeated fighters is always special. But once we look into the hatred each man feels for the other and the polar-opposite set of weaponry they bring to this battle, we’ll grasp how truly epic this fight might end up being.

Costa is a chiseled specimen with a bodybuilder’s physique. He is incredibly explosive. He possesses profuse power in both hands and legs, and he complements a fierce, aggressive style with a granite jaw. Costa is one-dimensional as a mixed martial artist. His single point of focus once the bell rings is to seek and destroy. A black belt in BJJ, Costa can roll but prefers to walk opponents down, then beat the stuffing out of them.

Costa lands 8.5 strikes per minute, which is incredibly busy, especially understanding the depth of power generated in each strike. His defense lacks, however, as opponents have touched him for an average of 6.8 strikes per minute. Costa is more than willing to stand and trade blows because he thinks he can eat his opponents’ best shots while they are unable to withstand his.

While Costa is rife with finishing power, explosion and bad intention, he lacks experience and physical advantage in this matchup. In his 13 wins, he has had to go three full rounds only once, which was in his last outing.

That fight was last month against Yoel Romero, the only real test Costa has had to endure. Though he won, a closer look shows that Costa’s defense eroded throughout the fight. Romero landed 32 significant strikes in Round 1, followed by 40 in the second and 53 in the third. And Romero is 41.

Costa believes his unrelenting pressure and blunt-force-trauma body attack will break his taller, longer opponent. At the opening bell, Costa will attack his opponent like a bull seeks the matador. Questions on Costa revolve around his lack of championship experience and the singular dimension to his attack, which could leave him vulnerable to a more fluid counterstriking opponent.

Adesanya is the more athletic, polished, complete mixed martial artist who dominates fights by combining deft movement, precision striking and skillful defense to overwhelm victims. His experience, speed and physical attributes combine to create as complete a fighter as the UFC has today.

Adesanya has faced superior competition and has won three main events, all scheduled for five rounds. He has seen the five-round distance twice, against Kelvin Gastelum and Romero, so Adesanya can fight effectively and at his most dangerous late in bouts.

Adesanya is taller and will have an 8-inch reach advantage with his arms and 5 inches with legs. He utilizes an elite championship kickboxing background complemented by a blue belt in BJJ. Adesanya lands an average of four strikes per minute, but his defense separates him from other pedigreed fighters as he is hit at the rate of only 2.4 strikes per minute.

Costa’s weaponry is less complete. He thrives on simple unrelenting pressure and one-punch KO power to dominate opponents, and he has been effective with this approach in his young career.

When the bell rings, Costa will project himself forward to engage. Adesanya will need to keenly navigate the early pressure and those telegraphed shots Costa will be hurling.

Adesanya will be at the most risk early, so he must be diligent to quickly find his flow before this time bomb goes off. He must utilize movement and distance to manage this fight into later rounds, when Costa’s energy level will lapse, allowing the accumulation of Adesanya strikes and kicks to take effect.

Adesanya’s athleticism, deft movement and constant precision counterstriking will batter the brazen Costa, who has not been in the octagon with a fighter of Adesanya’s ability.

This fight opened Adesanya -135, and currently the price is Adesanya -170.

I’m already in play at the opening price, so my advice is to consider remaining patient. The public could easily be judging this Costa book by its cover, and Costa money may come in late, making the value on Adesanya even greater for those who wait. I’ll commit to these two positions:

Adesanya -170 1u leg 1

This is the first leg of a parlay in which the second leg remains open for later use. Readers are aware that I minimize exposure by employing this tactic.

Props: Adesanya ITD + 120 1u

The total in this fight: 2.5 Over -125

I am hesitant to take this total Over because I think Costa, once frustrated, could rush right into a mouth full of shinbone.

Dominick Reyes -260 vs. Jan Blachowicz + 220, light heavyweight (205 pounds), interim title

Jon Jones vacating the light-heavyweight title created an opening for a new champion, and these two fighters have earned the opportunity.

Dominick Reyes is the top contender in the division, coming in off a loss to Jones. He’ll be favored facing the No. 3-ranked contender in Poland’s Jan Blachowicz.

Blachowicz, 37, has been fighting professionally for 13 years, so he’ll hold an edge in experience. But I wonder if that’s where his advantages end. Blachowicz’s last outing against Corey Anderson was perhaps his brightest moment, yet outside of that bout, Blachowicz’s victories have been over the likes of Luke Rockhold (retired) and Jacare Souza (40 years old and washed up).

In the split-decision loss to Jones, Reyes displayed athleticism, durability and cardio as he went the full five rounds with the best pound-for-pound fighter in UFC history.

Reyes, a southpaw, is taller by a couple of inches, so he’ll have leverage on Blachowicz even though he will not hold a reach advantage. Reyes earned victories over top contender Jared Cannonier (now a middleweight), Volkan Oezdemir and Ovince Saint Preux, so Blachowicz will present nothing that Reyes hasn’t seen.

Reyes’ youth, speed, quickness and size give him the advantage, and I believe he should be at least a -220 favorite.  

This bout opened Reyes -210. Total is not posted.

Zubaira Tukhugov -110 vs. Hakeem Dawodu + 110, featherweight (145 pounds)

What? A Russian fighter who does not utilize his grappling?

I thought it was impossible until I saw Zubaira Tukhugov fight in the UFC. This wild man is a master of sport in hand-to-hand combat as well as Sambo, and while he may master grappling, he has not used it in his previous fights.

Tukhugov usually wants to stand and bang with opponents, but he’ll discover quickly that his opponent’s speed and length will cause him plenty of duress. I believe this will force Tukhugov to employ his Sambo in this bout as grappling is the sure advantage Tukhugov holds over Hakeem Dawodu. What’s out of my control is whether he uses it.

In Dawodu, the UFC picked a perfect opponent if the result it was seeking was pure, unadulterated striking violence. Dawodu is about the same age and size as Tukhugov, but he’ll hold substantial reach advantages with his arms and legs.

Dawodu is the quicker, more explosive striker, and he’ll hold an edge standing. His style of offensive fighting requires abundant energy, which, coupled with takedown defense from Tukhugov’s grappling, may cause him issues the later this fight goes.

The key is whether Tukhugov can forget the banging and take this fight to the floor, where Dawodu is overmatched.

Tukhugov -110

Pending weigh-ins


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