Paulo Costa believes his unanimous decision win over Yoel Romero at UFC 241 is enough for him to earn a title shot, but he doesn’t want to take the risk that comes with being a backup to the title unification bout between Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya at UFC 243.
“I train so hard to be backup,” Costa said in the post-fight press conference. “I train so hard. I need to confirm the fight. I need to confirm the fight to do my camp.”
Costa cited his “wild” camps as the main reason against training and making weight only to possibly be left without a fight. The competitiveness of his camp has left him injured in the past with broken ribs, a broken wrist and a torn bicep, so he believes the risk is not worth the slim chance at the potential reward.
Costa will also need time to heal after his three-round war with Romero that earned a Fight of the Night bonus. He was dropped by Romero in the first round, and he wore the battle scars from the fight to the press conference. His face was battered and bruised, and he needed to be helped off of the stage once he finished answering questions.
The bout was the first time Costa went the distance in his 13-fight professional career. He said after the fight that it was harder than he expected, and he entered the bout thinking he would knock Romero out in the first or second round.
UFC president Dana White agreed with Costa’s stance on being a backup, adding that he’s unsure if Costa would be able to make the 185-pound title fight limit in less than a two-month turnaround. White said that the UFC has an insurance plan for the fight between Whittaker and Adesanya, but he did not disclose what that entailed.
White does believe Costa has earned his shot at the middleweight belt.
“When I talk to you guys after a fight, usually like an RDA fight, I say, ‘Man, when you beat RDA, you know, that’s a big deal and he’s one of the toughest guys out there. He’s beat some of the best in the world,'” White said. “When you beat Romero, and especially the way he beat him tonight, in a fight like tonight, yeah, I wouldn’t say that he doesn’t deserve a title shot.”
Costa’s fight with Romero was closely contested. Media scores were split evenly between the two fighters according to MMADecisions.com.
When the judges’ scorecards were read aloud, the fans inside the Honda Center in Anaheim, California booed as Costa’s hand was raised. Each judge gave Costa the first two rounds and gave Romero the third, a decision that White agreed with.
“I had it scored 2-1. I gave Costa the first two rounds, and I gave Romero the third round,” White said. “And then some of the fighters I talked to that were there tonight had Romero winning two rounds and Costa winning one round. I think that that’s one of those fights that either way it went, I don’t think you’d be like, ‘Oh my God this is an absolute robbery.’ That fight was ridiculous.”
Though he will not be the backup in all likelihood, Costa has said he wants to be in attendance in Melbourne, Australia to watch Whittaker and Adesanya battle it out. He believes that Whittaker will get his hand raised at the conclusion of the fight. Regardless of the outcome, Costa thinks he has the advantage in a title bout.
“I think Whittaker will beat Adesanya,” Costa said. “And I beat Romero. For me, Romero won against Robert Whittaker. But if Adesanya take the belt, man, I can kill that guy. He very skinny. He [does] not have a chance against me.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.