Is this Brazil’s next UFC superstar? Paulo Costa is an undefeated KO artist with devastating power and a physique to match… here’s how he made it from street fights in Belo Horizonte as a youngster to a title shot at UFC 253 against Israel Adesanya
- Paulo Costa is 13-0 and enters title fight with Israel Adesanya as slight underdog
- Brazilian is brutal knockout artist and one of the UFC’s most exciting talents
- He worked in IT to help his family before concentrating on MMA full time
- Costa’s power punches were described by Chael Sonnen as like ‘shotgun blasts’
It isn’t every day that a former IT consultant has a shot at UFC gold, but one glance at Paulo Costa tells you he was hardly your average computer technician.
The 29-year-old Brazilian, who looks like a cross between a Mr Olympia competitor and Abercrombie & Fitch model, has amassed an undefeated 13-0 record and is one of the most exciting KO artists in MMA.
This Saturday at UFC 253 he takes on Israel Adesanya for the middleweight belt as a slight underdog but the odds have always been stacked against him.
Paulo Costa (left) pictured here during his victory over Yoel Romero in August 2019
The Brazilian faces Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title on Fight Island this Saturday
Costa, pictured here on a run in the hills near his home in Brazil, started training aged nine
As with every young child in Belo Horizonte where he grew up, there were dreams of making it as a professional footballer but Costa lacked the talent.
He grew up in the city of Contagem and would regularly get into street fights.
‘There was this time I left school and there were 20 people waiting outside to beat me up,’ he previously told MMA Fighting.
‘I can’t remember what happened, why they wanted to do that, but all I know is that I ran as fast as I could and entered a supermarket to hide. I remember there were cops there, it was a crazy mess.’
His mother Maria added: ‘One day Paulo got home, and he had a big cut on his forehead, someone threw a rock at him.’
Concerned with the direction her troublesome nine-year-old was heading in, she reluctantly accepted Paulo joining the local Muay Thai gym, at first worrying it would encourage his aggression but later realising it was the healthiest way to harness it.
Paulo and his brother Carlos later started jit-jitsu classes and it was clear that ‘Borrachina’ (meaning ‘rubber’ due to his elasticity), was a natural.
Costa is a power puncher and 11 of his 13 victories inside the cage have come by KO
He showed plenty of promise as a fighter but his father’s death from lung cancer forced him into employment to help the family make ends meet.
Paulo had a stint as an estate agent and then worked in IT for a time but it was his brother who persuaded Maria to give him one year to focus completely on MMA.
‘I told her he had a future, he’s talented, that he would get to the biggest MMA promotion in the world. I said “It will be all worth it, but we have to help him now, hold tight here at home and let him train”.’
He was 1-0 as a professional at the time and soon moved to 3-0 with typically impressive knockout finishes.
Then came his first big break, the Ultimate Fighter Brazil came calling and he was to be a competitor on their version of the reality show.
In front of a huge television audience he won his first match-up for Wanderlei Silva’s team against Chael Sonnen’s, beating Jose Roberto by submission.
Costa appeared on the Ultimate Fighter Brazil but did not manage to win the competition
Costa has become well known due to his monstrous physique and flashy ability
He then lost a split decision and was dumped out at the quarter-final stage.
Despite the early exit, former UFC middleweight and light-heavyweight star turned analyst Chael Sonnen remembers tipping Costa for big things.
He said: ‘I remember he used to hit mitts, and when you’re in the locker room of the set, you are just behind a very thin door, just a door enough to separate you.’
Sonnen described the sound of the fists hitting the mitts ‘like shotgun blasts going off’, adding: ‘If Wanderlei’s team went first when it was time for our team to get in, you would clean the mats and get someone real fast so everyone could practice. You couldn’t get him out of the room. He will either be on a piece of equipment pumping away or running.’
Costa won his next bout away from the limelight of the TV show and knocked on the door for a UFC contract.
But he was told he was too inexperienced. It spurred him on and the heavy-hitter moved to 8-0 and this time the UFC came calling.
It didn’t take long for Costa to validate their decision and start to make a name for himself.
The 29-year-old persuaded his mother to let him commit to a career in MMA
Costa face Adesanya in a middleweight title fight this Saturday on Fight Island at UFC 253
A 77-second KO win in his first fight against Garreth McLellan on debut was followed up by second-round finishes against Oluwale Bamgbose, Johny Hendricks and Uriah Hall.
Then came his first really big name opponent in Yoel Romero in August last year. He won Fight of the Night honours and claimed a unanimous decision win.
Costa had the look of a star, clean cut with a physique Adesanya has dismissed as ‘purely aesthetic’, but one that has no doubt worked in his favour.
And of course the fact that he is Brazilian, a nation with a rich MMA history crying out for their next superstar also accelerated his progression.
Adesanya has continually dismissed Costa’s ability. ‘He’s dumb. He’s dumb and he walks forward and he throws shots,’ the champion told ESPN.
‘That’s what makes it really exciting, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.
The middleweight is a dangerous striker, especially early on in his encounters
‘I’m looking forward to this big, inflated ignoramus, running up on me, trying to throw shots as I keep moving and sticking him.’
Costa showed he can come up with a clever jibe of his own, taking a swipe at Adesanya’s evasive, occasionally negative tactics against Romero: ‘I don’t know if you know but Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world he got coronavirus. I wish the best for him, good recovery for him’, he said.
‘But with this news, now Adesanya is now the No 1 fastest man in the world. Adesanya is now official the No 1 fastest runner of the world.’
With only one fight under his belt against a truly elite level opponent, it is difficult to gauge whether Costa is ready for the challenge of Adesanya.
That is part of what is so exciting about the main event. By Sunday morning, Brazil could have the new superstar they crave and two decades after stepping into a Muay Thai gym, Costa may reach the very top.
Costa only made his UFC debut back in 2017 but can reach the very top on Saturday night