top of page

UFC 253: Avatar the Last Style Bender vs Borrachinha

Who is “The Last Style Bender”

A post shared by Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) on Sep 19, 2020 at 4:13am PDT

By now, we’re all familiar with Israel Adesanya’s approach to combat. Adesanya, also known as the Last Stylebender is going to stay on the outside and look to counter strike. Before he ever went 19-0 in mixed martial arts, he was a kickboxer with a 75-5 record. The various promotions he fought under include Wu Lin Feng, Glory, King in the Ring and Glory of Heroes. He uses his superior range management, reaction and timing from his kickboxing base to capitalize on mistakes. But sometimes that can work against a fighter. MMA has a scoring system that favors the aggressor.

Paulo Costa has a fearless demeanor in the cage as he walks down opponents and imposes his will on them. A fighting style like his is really favored by the current scoring system. Costa’s brand however is erasing opponents in two rounds of less.

That’s exactly what Costa is hoping to do to the Last Style Bender by scoring a big knockout. If he wasn’t afraid to shoot in and trade with York Romero, he probably isn’t afraid to try it with Adesanya. However, Isreal Adesanya has a few keys to victory that will allow him to impose his will on Costa and ensure Costa cannot implement his game plan.

Who is Borrachinha

A post shared by Paulo Costa (@borrachinhamma) on Sep 20, 2020 at 4:41pm PDT

Paulo Costa has earned his nickname Borrachinha, as the years have gone by. Now 29, he scored 9 first round KOs in a row dating back to 2012. While this is impressive on paper, it is not uncommon for UFC fighters to start their careers this way. The UFC is quite literally a champions’ league built for talent across the globe to compete against one another. Costa and Adesanya are two world class, championship level fighters that both seem to be unstoppable forces. Adesanya is very obviously the more skilled striker between the two, but Costa is slowly becoming less of a brute than when he started.

It is widely known that Costa showed little talent when he first started fighting. He also has no combat sports background before starting his MMA career. What he does have is a strong drive to improve and a lot of physical power. That drive, in addition to great coaching has formed the fighter we saw against Yoel Romero is August.

Keys to Victory

Movement: Adesanya

Retreating too much has definitely been a complaint from MMA fans since Adesanya hit the middleweight radar. It’s not a bad thing. High level strikers tend to do it intuitively to encourage opponents to over commit and fall into traps. Certain fighters sometimes welcome fighters to chase and charge in a reckless manner. Strikers like Uriah Hall and Stephen Thompson (once again, Karate/Taekwondo base) for example are taught very precisely how to deal with fighters that overcommit; however, Adesanya needs to be a little bit more aggressive. While he shouldn’t go charging in, he does not want to give up too much ground.

A post shared by Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) on Jun 20, 2020 at 8:45pm PDT

Contrary to popular thought, a smaller cage shouldn’t play a huge detriment to Adesanya’s performance. In a gym like City Kickboxing with high level striking partners like Alexander Volkanoski and Dan Hooker, adjusting to a smaller area shouldn’t be a problem. But if Adesanya is not careful, Costa’s pressure can back him into bad positions. Even if it’s not for long, it can still be dangerous. Giving up too much ground in this scoring system can really hurt a fighter on the score cards. In worst cases, backward movements become predictable and lead to suffering the wrath of huge techniques. Constant retreat gives space for Costa to throw massive shots with no respect for Adesanya’s retaliation.

Stylebender needs to have a conversation with himself and decide how much backpedaling he will do before he takes different action. That action doesn’t automatically have to mean offense. That could be side stepping or rolling out to stay on his bicycle and cause misdirection. The footwork and misdirections can be used to bait Costa into traps and attacks. This will require Adesanya to be more proactive about maintaining distance.

Movement: Costa

Defensively, Costa has a lot that he needs to work on. While moving forward does not necessarily mean that a fighter will get hit a lot, it definitely opens them up to getting hit. Most fighters who move forward are not a Conor McGregor or Canelo Alvarez who can apply pressure and remain elusive. Though Costa cannot do what they do, he does have a strong chin and the will to move forward even after taking huge shots.

A post shared by Paulo Costa (@borrachinhamma) on Sep 14, 2020 at 3:48pm PDT

Costa will fight this way invariably, which puts him in a lot of danger and makes the fight easier for a striker like Israel Adesanya. However, this style also gives Paulo Costa his best chance to win. Pushing forward is the style with which Paulo Costa is the most comfortable, and will allow him to throw punches until he lands a few big ones. Costa’s body shots can really affect the movement of Adesanya.

Picking Their Shots: Adesanya

Once again, Adesanya is a tall, lanky fighter who uses his reach advantage like he should. But in my opinion, he lets people in too close before he strikes. Granted, it’s sort of a part of his game plan since he tends to be a counter striker who wants his opponents to throw strikes first. Costa might be risky to try that, due to the difference in reach. What is close enough range for Costa is a little too close for Stylebender. What might be too far for Costa is just right for Adesanya. It’s best to keep the latter of the two.  

A post shared by Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) on Aug 13, 2020 at 11:31pm PDT

That’s why I would see it more fitting if Adesanya were to strike from the outside. Not to a high volume but enough to frustrate Costa and give him a sense of urgency to answer back. When Costa rushes in to even the score then those big opportunities for counter strikes will open. So, it’ll be good for Adesanya to throw lots of straights and repetitive jabs. Quick jab, cross then jump out. He must utilize his superior reach and footwork, even using push kicks and/or sidekicks to maintain the distance when necessary.

Picking Their Shots: Costa

Though he has become more technical over time, Paulo Costa is still not very fast. Point fighting is not something he should try against most opponents at this level. He needs to move forward and corner his opponent every now and then so that he can open up with heavy shots. So, the best thing for him to do is wait until he is in those positions and then let his hands fly. Best thing is, Costa throws combinations instinctually. He throws hard and he throws from the hip way too often, but at least if you do that you should throw flurries and mix in some kicks.

A post shared by Paulo Costa (@borrachinhamma) on Sep 17, 2020 at 12:35am PDT

Costa does that, does it well, and has a chin strong enough to risk fighting that way. Adesanya does have heavy hands, but is not a one-shot vanquisher like a Robert Whittaker or a Dan Henderson if you will. Costa has more power than Adesanya, but does not have this wicked power that many seem to think he does. His power is good, but he has not flatlined anyone outright. This is exactly why he needs to get Adesanya in position and be patient before he starts opening up.

Guide to Physicality

Tactical Physicality: Adesanya

Of course, using fakes and feints are a key part to any good striker’s method. However, Adesanya can have a habit of using it too much. Case In point, his interim title match against Kelvin Gastelum. Throughout the first and second round, Adesanya was doing a lot of feints with his legs to put out the threat like he was going to keep. Despite throwing fakes at a constant rate, he never actually threw a kick.  

A post shared by Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) on Sep 10, 2020 at 1:23am PDT

When the third round came about, Gastelum had figured out that Adesanya was too cautious of throwing a kick for fear of being taken down. It was then that Gastelum began to become more offensive and get into Adesanya’s bubble. You can make an argument that Gastelum began at the end of the second round. Point being, Adesanya should definitely use his long legs to help keep the distance between him and Costa. If need be, throw a few kicks in the wind. That’s fine. As long as he makes a statement to Costa that he’s willing to let them fly. Maintaining that respect is key for Adesanya.

Tactical Physicality: Costa

On Saturday we need to see him fight long like he did against McLellan. His posture and rotation were perfect with almost every shot, and he picked his shots even though it looked like he was brawling. The technicality was almost as hard to recognize as a Justin Gathje fight. The best game plan for Costa would be to kick to the body and legs a lot and give Adensanya one more thing to worry about. This has to be a very physical fight. Costa needs to move Adesanya to the fence, throw him down and brutalize him.

A post shared by Paulo Costa (@borrachinhamma) on Sep 4, 2020 at 12:37pm PDT

The standing strikes should be used to make Adesanya timid. The body kicks should be used to set up the head kick. Costa’s head kicks are way too slow to actually land clean, but again it can limit Adesanya’s offense more than if he Costa never throws any head kicks. It can be a useful tool in backing Adesanya up against the cage. If he gets Adesanya on the ground he has a better chance at finishing him because scoring a standing KO is highly unlikely.

Applied Physicality: Adesanya

There is a good chance that Stylebender and Costa will eventually end up in the clinch. At that point, Adesanya will have to make sure Costa doesn’t get off any free or unanswered punches. Costa still has dangerous power that can be dealt from mid to close range. Adesanya will have to make sure to keep Costa’s arms occupied to keep those punches from coming. I’m not super keen on how much time Adesanya and his camp spends on Thai clinching. I would assume it’s some amount (especially with his kickboxing experience) but not sure if it’s a sufficient amount to keep Costa in control from breathing distance.

A post shared by Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) on May 17, 2020 at 9:20pm PDT

Granted Costa is no stranger to kicks but it doesn’t seem to a major focus or a worry that Adesanya should be particularly afraid. Also, the takedown ability of Costa doesn’t really seem to come up in conversation. Whether it be for fun or seriousness, showing footage of a YouTube star completely having his way with you in a wrestling session is no way to give fans confidence in your skills. Granted, Logan Paul was skilled wrestler in his own right and an athlete but Costa is an MMA fighter now.

Applied Physicality: Costa

Once Costa pushes him against the cage, he should throw that lead left a lot. While wide, the shot does not leave Costa off balance and that is where he should capitalize. Throw that hook, anticipate Adesanya swaying away or ducking, and then look to bang that right cross down the middle.

A post shared by Paulo Costa (@borrachinhamma) on Aug 25, 2020 at 9:35am PDT

If he hurts Adesanya he should keep punching. Even if Adesanya is not hurt Costa should bang that straight and then crowd him, so he can use that strength and muscle him to the canvas.

There is a good chance Costa has a good performance here. He is younger and more aggressive than Romero and he is a more effective striker than Robert Whittaker. Paulo Costa is also less emotionally invested than Rob was, so we should see a killer in Costa that keeps his composure and provide a real test for Adesanya. ■

1 view0 comments


bottom of page