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UFC: Costa vs. Vettori Preview - Has Paulo Costa lost his motivation to be great?

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Get the low down on the main card action of UFC Vegas 41, headlined by a catchweight between two former middleweight title challengers in Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori.

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Paulo Costa fighting Israel Adesanya at UFC 253
Paulo Costa fighting Israel Adesanya at UFC 253
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

I don’t know about you, but my heart sank when I heard Costa wasn’t going to be able to make middleweight. Not that it’s necessarily a huge surprise given Costa’s muscular frame, but finding out Costa was about 25 pounds above weight 48 hours before weigh-ins is indicative of more than just a botched weight cut. It’s usually something more serious, such as injury, or a fighter who has lost his motivation.

Costa has a long way back to fighting for the title as long as Israel Adesanya remains champion, and there aren’t many who believe Adesanya is going to be dropping the title any time soon. Thus, it’s possible that Costa’s motivation isn’t there to remain relevant. Sure, he’s trying to put a spin on it, but history is against him.

Think back to Johny Hendricks. From late 2011 through 2014, Hendricks was in a lot of fun fights and secured some badass KO’s in the process, all while capturing the UFC welterweight title. Following the loss of his belt, Hendricks career was defined by his troubles with the scale more than anything else. Amongst other things, I’m paid to make predictions. I’m predicting we’ve already seen the best of Paulo Costa.

For the prelims preview, click here. For the audio preview, click here.

Paulo Costa vs. Marvin Vettori, Middleweight (originally)

While I stated in the introduction paragraph that I believe we’ve seen the best of Costa, that doesn’t mean he can’t win this fight. The best version of Costa that we’ve seen was capable of dethroning Adesanya. That version didn’t show up in their title fight. But even if we’ve seen the best of Costa, I’m still prone to believing whatever version of Costa we get against Vettori is still going to be very good.

Costa has already proven he has life-altering power. He blasted through his first four UFC opponents on the back of his punching power, making it look effortless. It wasn’t so effortless when he collided with Yoel Romero, but he gave as good as he took against the legendarily dangerous Cuban, proving he has some durability to go with his power. Those two things alone mean Costa is a legit threat to win any fight that he’s in at any time. He could lose four rounds, dig deep into the recesses of his reserves, and land a Hail Mary of a punch for the win with a greater likelihood than most other competitors.

However, his performance against Adesanya and now his blown weight cut indicate he’s a full blown headcase. Of course, that’s been said about Vettori as well, but Vettori is a different kind of headcase. Whereas Costa’s mind and interests seem to wander somewhere other than the fight, Vettori tends to become hyper-focused to a fault. He got so focused on what he was doing in his own contest with Adesanya that he completely discounted what Adesanya was doing. How else would one justify his thinking he won their fight? Vettori’s focus – often paired with an intense anger – doesn’t appear to have been the definitive cause of any of his losses thus far, but it’s easy to see it becoming an issue at some point.

While both are headcases, there are very distinct differences in their style. While I’ve already touched on Costa’s earth-shattering power and durability, there are major questions about his stamina, especially with the poor weight cut and questions about his focus. Conditioning never has and never will be an issue for Vettori. The Italian has gone five rounds at a hard pace in his last three contests. Primarily a boxer, Vettori does a fantastic job of mixing his punches to the head and body. He doesn’t throw many low kicks, but he does mix in takedowns, just how many depends on the matchup. It seems few tend to mention Vettori’s ground game as a strength, but over half of his wins have come via submission. He’s no Demian Maia, but no one has outclassed Vettori on the mat and there’s no reason to believe Costa will be the first.

In my opinion, this fight comes down to a single fulcrum: Vettori’s durability. Vettori has never been finished in his career. There wouldn’t be an ounce of surprise if Costa is the first man to do it, but I can’t help but question his motivation. Vettori doesn’t get outworked. He was certainly outslicked by Adesanya, but I wouldn’t say outworked. Costa could very well overwhelm Vettori with his power, but he won’t outslick him and he certainly won’t outwork him. In fact, Costa hasn’t proven he can go five rounds. He did push three hard rounds against Romero, but his motivation was readily apparent. It’s much harder to see this time around. Vettori via submission of RD4

  • Now that he’s given up on the idea of plying his trade at featherweight, it looks like Grant Dawson is now free to concentrate on sharpening up his skills rather than spending his entire camp focusing on his diet and cutting weight. It’s not like Dawson is on the small side at 155. Given his focus has been on overpowering his opponent with his constant pressure and takedown attempts, it’s understandable why he was so determined to make it work at 145, but his striking never seemed to advance beyond being something less than polished. Even if Dawson has made strides on the feet, it’s hard to believe it’ll be as polished as what Ricky Glenn has to offer. Himself a former featherweight, Glenn prefers staying on the outside with jabs and front kicks, though he doesn’t mind biting down on his mouthpiece and throwing wildly. Unfortunately for Glenn, his Achilles heel has always been pressuring fighters looking to put him on his back; in other words, fighters exactly like Dawson. If the power Glenn flashed when he disposed of Joaquim Silva reappears, this fight will have an entirely different feel. The problem is that’s about the only time Glenn has displayed that type of power. Glenn is hard to put away, so expect Dawson to grind out a decision, provided he doesn’t slow the deeper the fight goes. Dawson via decision
  • There’s been a clear delineation between the fights Jessica-Rose Clark has won and lost in the UFC. When she loses, Clark hasn’t been able to get the fight to the mat. When she wins, she’s been able to do that and exercise long degrees of control. That puts her in a tough spot as she’s on the smaller side for bantamweight, but her body won’t allow her to make the cut to 125 any longer. Thus, she’s largely dependent upon stylistic matchups in order to find success. There’s no doubt Joselyne Edwards will have a significant edge on the feet, but her lanky frame isn’t ideal for stopping takedowns. Her wrestling was merely adequate on the regional scene; it’s flat out bad by UFC standards. Edwards’ BJJ is sound enough that she has excellent survival skills on the mat, but surviving doesn’t win fights. Edwards easily wins a strict kickboxing contest, but the gritty Clark isn’t helpless on the feet herself and will do everything in her power to muddy things up. The guess here is she succeeds. Clark via decision
  • It’s hard to find someone who has had a more up-and-down UFC career than Alex Caceres. Fortunately for him, he’s riding a high at this point. Caceres has always been a plus athlete with a slick BJJ game and flowing striking. Despite his well-roundedness, Caceres has had a terrible habit of allowing his opponents to dictate where the fight takes place, Caceres’ confidence in his ability to hang in any place the fight goes doing him in. Not that Caceres is particularly bad in any one place, but going where an opponent wants to go just to prove a point isn’t all that wise. In his last few fights, Caceres has avoided falling into that trap, making it no coincidence he’s on a four-fight win streak. However, the quality of the opposition during that streak can be questioned and no one will argue Seung Woo Choi represents a notable step up. The South Korean native is built like a brick house and hits like a truck. Choi’s ground game still has plenty of questions that haven’t proven to be shored up – in part because his takedown defense has shown improvement – and he can be hesitant on the feet. Regardless, I don’t believe Caceres has the physicality to make his ground game a real threat to Choi. It’s a hard one to pick, but I like the younger fighter to hurt Caceres on several occasions, but having trouble putting his away. Choi via decision
  • While I acknowledge there’s a very good likelihood the contest between the ancient Francisco Trinaldo and Dwight Grant ending with an explosive bang, there’s an even greater likelihood that every second leading up to that finish will be exceptionally painful to watch. While both have a significant amount of punching power, they also have a nasty habit of waiting for their opponents to make mistakes, spending long periods of time staring as the openings they look for don’t appear. It’s kind of funny that neither seem to be averse to brawling – and have had success in that environment – but being the one to initiate it? Both tend to politely decline. However, if they do find their opponent, both tend to show great killer instinct. What separates them? Trinaldo has been exceptionally durable – he hasn’t been finished with strikes in his near-decade in the UFC – but is also 43. At some point, the wheels will come off. There are signs that process has already begun. Grant is no spring chicken either at 37, but he doesn’t have nearly the mileage Trinaldo does and has also shown some durability, though he doesn’t have the track record of Trinaldo in that sense. Given this contest feels a lot like a coin flip, I’ll go with the younger fighter, though I wouldn’t be throwing money on the fight. Grant via decision
  • For the record, this fight has no business being on the main card. Nick Negumereanu is an excellent example of why the rules in the cage should be enforced with more authority. After losing his UFC debut against an opponent who committed foul after foul with minimal punishment, Negumereanu turned around and won his sophomore effort... by committing foul after foul. At least it indicates Negumereanu is capable of learning what works in the cage. The young Romanian has a long reach and showed major strides in his ground game, but is still far from being a finished product. On the flip side, Ike Villanueva is a finished product. The longtime regional journeyman is lacking in physical gifts, but all his experience has made him a dangerous man to stand and trade with. Of course, standing and trading is about all Villanueva wants to do and his lack of athletic gifts makes him a sitting duck in the pocket in terms of his defense. Even worse, all the miles on his body appears to have made him vulnerable to getting away. Regardless, Negumereanu doesn’t have the same power as those who have been finishing off the rugged vet and there is just as strong of an argument that Negumereanu’s defense is worse. I’ll go with the aging vet to find an opening. Villanueva via TKO of RD2