Kiwi invasion: All you need to know about UFC 253
The spotlight again falls on New Zealand mixed martial arts this weekend with Israel Adesanya and three of his City Kickboxing team-mates travelling to ‘Fight Island’ for UFC 253 in Abu Dhabi.
In a main-event blockbuster between two undefeated fighters, Adesanya (19-0) puts his middleweight championship on the line against Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa (13-0).
With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc with live events and global travel, the UFC came up with the concept of staging fights on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island in the UAE, to allow the promotion’s international athletes to compete.
In reality, Yas Island is a highly developed tourist destination and the entire operation takes place in a designated ‘safe zone’ which is closed off to the public.
Fighters and support staff are housed at The W Abu Dhabi, a five-star resort surrounded by the Yas Marina Circuit, home of Formula One’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
And as good as the beachside octagon looks in promotional material, the event will take place in an indoor arena with no fans in attendance.
Who is Paulo Costa?
Similar to Adesanya, the Brazilian made a
big splash when he first entered the UFC in 2017. However, injury and a six-month suspension for receiving banned intravenous infusions stalled his momentum.
Costa has only fought once in the last two years – a close unanimous decision win over Yoel Romero in August, 2019. Still, with all but one of his five UFC victories coming inside the distance he has built a reputation as a devastating finisher, and there is no doubt this is currently the biggest fight to make in the division.
What is the history between Adesanya and Costa and how do they match up?
Having both entered the UFC with plenty of expectation, the pair have been on a collision course almost since Adesanya made his promotional debut – and have traded barbs for just as long.
In explaining their heated rivalry, Adesanya said this week it simply boiled down to the fact that they don’t like each other.
‘‘Sometimes you see someone and you just don’t like their energy. We get to do something about it,’’ he said.
It’s clearly escalated since Adesanya claimed the undisputed title. Costa has been cageside for his last two fights, which both ended with the Kiwi antagonising him and ‘The Eraser’ threatening to storm the octagon.
The matchup, meanwhile, pits Costa’s power, physicality and relentless pressure up against Adesanya’s precision striking, movement and fight IQ. Costa is determined to show that he has more than just a power game.
However, finding a way to trap Adesanya is easier said than done if ‘The Last Stylebender’, who holds a 10cm reach advantage, is able to nullify his strength and pick him apart with his array of strikes.
The UFC’s second run on ‘Fight Island’ has
a distinct Kiwi flavour with Kai KaraFrance, Brad Riddell and Shane Young completing the City Kickboxing quartet.
Joining Adesanya on the main card, seventh-ranked flyweight Kara-France meets No 9 Brandon Royval as he looks to edge closer to a title shot. In the prelims, Riddell will try to make it three from three in the UFC against Brazilian lightweight Alex Da Silva, while featherweight Shane Young returns to the octagon for the first time in 19 months against Slovak Ludovit Klein.
There could yet be more Kiwis in action over the coming weeks. King in the Ring champions Blood Diamond and Carlos Ulberg, who train out of the Auckland gym, have also made the trip over and are ready to step up if called on by the UFC.
The co-main event features another title fight for the vacant light-heavyweight crown between American Dominick Reyes and Poland’s Jan Blachowicz.
How to watch
Spare a thought for the fighters, who face an early wake-up call. With no fans in attendance the timing is catered for US television, with the early prelims scheduled to start at 3am local time (noon, NZ time) and the main card from 6am.
In New Zealand, the preliminariess are shown live on ESPN 2 (from noon) and Prime (1pm) before the coverage switches to Sky Arena for the main card from 3pm.
Brazilian Paulo Costa, left, and Nigerian-born Kiwi Israel Adesanya don’t like each other much, and have plenty at stake in their UFC title fight tomorrow.