Kiwi in­va­sion: All you need to know about UFC 253

The Timaru Herald - - Sport - Marvin France

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.

Kiwi in­va­sion

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.

GETTY IM­AGES

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