UFC 253: Israel Adesanya talks beef with Paulo Costa, retiring unbeaten and becoming the greatest of all time

When UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya thinks about what it will look and feel like to be locked inside the Octagon on Saturday with Paulo Costa for their long-awaited title showdown in Abu Dhabi, he compares it to a failed attempt at mixing oil and water. 

Adesanya (19-0) enters what could be his most dangerous test to date on paper when he headlines UFC 253 in the promotion’s return to Fight Island. And despite a surprisingly cordial (if not jovial) chance meeting with Costa (13-0) on Sunday upon arrival to the fighter hotel on Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates, he insists the beef between the dangerous strikers is very real. 

“There wasn’t really an origin, it’s just energies,” Adesanya told CBS Sports. “There are certain energies that don’t mix well with other energies. You have to be able to understand it and read it, and also to trust and protect your instincts. That’s what I did. He just happened to be vibrating around it everywhere and not everything happens for a reason. 

“It’s mutual; I don’t like you and you don’t like me. F— you and f— you.”

As dueling alpha personalities, the two fighters have spent the majority of the build to this weekend’s pay-per-view headliner trading unpleasantries on social media. The two also nearly came to blows in March after the 31-year-old Adesanya’s victory over Yoel Romero at UFC 248 when he climbed the cage wall to berate Costa in the crowd, forcing Las Vegas security to hold the Brazilian slugger back from entering the cage. 

Can’t get enough UFC? Subscribe to our podcast State of Combat with Brian Campbell where we break down everything you need to know in the Octagon, including an exclusive interview with Israel Adesanya below.

The open dislike for each other has been as big a part of the allure to Adesanya’s second defense of the full 185-pound title with the expectations for fireworks between them. A native of Nigeria who fights out of New Zealand, the counter-striking Adesanya is very likely to be forced to play the matador to the 29-year-old Costa’s ultra aggressive bull. 

The fight also marks the first time since Rashad Evans lost his light heavyweight title to Lyoto Machida in 2009 that two unbeaten male fighters squared off for a UFC championship, adding to the historical significance. (The 2016 women’s strawweight title bout between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Karolina Kowalkiewicz was the last time it happened in any UFC fight.) 

The brash Adesanya pulled no punches during a recent appearance on the State of Combat podcast, giving his take on everything from the fallout of an unexpectedly boring and flat performance against Romero to whether he believes he can run the table and retire unbeaten as a mixed martial arts fighter. 

Given the volatility between you and Costa, is it fair to say this fight will be guaranteed fireworks?

“That’s facts, that’s all facts.”

Can it be any other way given his style? 

“Hell no. And I don’t expect anything like the [Yoel Romero] fight, if that’s what you are referring to. This fight is only going to go one of two ways: me stopping him early [or] him and me clashing until he gives it up. That’s the two ways I see this fight going.”

Let’s talk about that Romero fight. Do you have regrets in terms of how it played out? 

“It was that way because Yoel made it that way. I don’t regret anything. I’m happy the way it turned out because this is part of my story. I had a fight that was a bit lackluster. It is what it is. Every peak has a valley and has a way of coming back up again and [this fight] is it coming back up.”

Are you any extra motivated to deliver action after being booed against Romero?: 

“Nope, nope; not really. I’m always motivated and always just worried about myself. I could give two f—s about what a motherf—er who has never stepped foot inside the cage thinks. It doesn’t matter what they are doing. I’m not extra motivated, I’m just going to show out like I always do.”

Costa has recently said that he’s in your head, you are a runner and that he (and not you) fights like a real man. How do you respond to that? 

“Interesting. I don’t know. Is that what he tells himself so he can sleep at night? You fight like a real man? Well, define that for me. I don’t understand. I [don’t] fight like a real man? Yeah, sure. Check my resume! Check my resume! It’s not just my last fight. I have other fights. One fight does not define me.”

Not everyone fights well when things get heated or emotional. Who does that benefit in this rivalry? 

“If there is emotion in this fight, it will not be on my side. I’m not a very reactive person. I try not to react, I respond. I make other people react. I saw him on TV and he’s reacting everywhere.”

Is it possible for you to finish your career unbeaten given the level of competition you face in the UFC?

“One-hundred percent it’s possible, 100%. But you have to do it in another promotion, usually. You can get it done in the UFC but there’s a difference between the way boxing is run and the way UFC is run. If UFC fans want a fight, it usually gets made fairly quickly. But it’s possible, I think.”

How much has retiring unbeaten been on your mind?

“I want records, so f— no. I’ve lost before, I’ve lost in kickboxing. That doesn’t take away from the great striker that I am. If anything, I learned from my [losses] and usually knocked the next person out. They say losses don’t mean that much but they do. It’s records that don’t mean that much. It’s the challenges and the victories that matter. Look how many great fighters are fighting right now with shit records and no one cares because they are great artists.”

Do you respect Costa as a man?

“As a man, I don’t know him so how can I respect someone that I don’t know?”

From what you have seen of him, what do you think of Costa? 

“I said it earlier, it’s just his energy. Some energies don’t mix and that’s OK. You just have to protect your personal space. With his energy, he’s a f—boy. He’s definitely a f—boy. I don’t f— with f—boys.”

You’ve joked in the past about Costa and performance-enhancing drug use. Is that something you truly believe?

“Well, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and acts like a duck, yeah. The streets are talking anyway. I said it years ago that I’m going to pop him before USADA does and I plan on doing that.”

In light of that, do you believe Costa can fight for five, hard championship rounds?

“Hell no! Hell no! Hell f—ing no! Dude, he gasses out after one round and that’s definitely a big giveaway. It’s easy to knock someone out when they are tired. You just have to drag them into deep waters and watch them drown. They can even do it to themselves.”

How much of what’s inside of you were you forced to pour out in beating Kelvin Gastelum in that 2019 war?

“After that first round, within the first minute and a half, I remember saying to [coach] Eugene [Bareman], ‘I’m going to drown him’ while in the cage. That was because I tapped into another level that I didn’t realize that I had. In the fourth round, I was giving it my all and I thought that was it. But then in the fifth round, I gave my famous last words that ‘you are not going to beat me.’ I said that to him across the cage and then I found this new surge that I didn’t realize I had. If you watch that fifth round again, I didn’t take my foot off the gas the whole time. I walked him down and kept calling him on because I was just in God mode. Whenever you think you found your limit, there is always another plateau and reserve. I have just found that over and over again throughout my career.”

You have to have great confidence to be a UFC champion. But do you walk around believing that, right now, you are the best fighter to ever step foot in the Octagon?

“When you say walking around, do you mean like every day, day to day, just walking around? For me personally, no. I don’t walk around feeling like I’m the shit all the time but there is moments when I have to remind myself that I’m a bad motherfucker. Most times I’m about to play games on PS4 and I’m not thinking I am the fighter.”

Is that your mission to one day exit the sport as the GOAT?

“Yeah, mic drop.”

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