A fantastic middleweight clash between Paulo Costa and Luke Rockhold is this weekend’s scheduled UFC co-main event at UFC 278.
Rockhold, a former UFC middleweight champion, will make his return after consecutive defeats — the latest being in July 2019 against Jan Blachowicz. Costa’s also experienced the first losing streak of his career, coming up short against both Israel Adesanya and Marvin Vettori.
Costa and Rockhold will feature on the UFC 278 fight card this Saturday, August 20, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The main event of the night will be a welterweight clash between Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards. As always, read on for our full staff predictions, staff picks, breakdowns, and the latest betting odds before UFC 278 this weekend.
Luke Rockhold opened as a +220 underdog against Paulo Costa, but the odds have only grown further apart since then, as he’s now listed as a +284 underdog at MyBookie. Paulo Costa’s opening line was -260 as the betting favorite, and there’s now less value on him at the current odds of -370.
Both of these men will be coming into the fight with a lot of pressure on their backs. Costa, after being undefeated in his career, is coming off of his first and only two losses in the sport. Rockhold likewise is coming off of two losses which puts him almost half a decade out from his last win. However, the routes these two have taken in the last few years are not your average ones; changes in weight, championship-level fights and all, the two men, make no mistake, are still two of the best in the world technically and when they are on point.
From the technical perspective, there is a lot going on. Both men are great kickers, primarily their power round kicks to the body, which will be especially open as Costa fighting from an orthodox stance will be opposite to Rockhold, who is a southpaw. From this range, Rockhold is a bit slicker in mixing up his targets, he has a nice question mark kick which could become a tactical advantage late if the two end up exchanging body shots over the duration of the first few rounds. If the fight does end up taking place from a relatively longer striking range, Rockhold does also possess a five-inch reach advantage in the punching department.
However, while Costa may use his singular kicks at range, he ultimately does want to get inside the pocket and try to wear down Rockhold with boxing. He tends to swarm and keep his foot on the gas while mixing his hooks upstairs and to the ribs. The big question mark hovering over this fight, though is the state of Rockhold’s chin. Since his title reign in 2015, Rockhold has sustained three knockouts in four fights and then taken three years off. One would hope his time away from damage has allowed him to recover some, but it would be fair to give Costa the edge in durability at this point in their careers.
This is partially why we may see a very grappling-heavy attack from Luke Rockhold. While Costa is a black belt in BJJ, we have seen very little use in MMA. Luke Rockhold, on the other hand, has shown himself to be one of the best top game jiu-jitsu artists in the division. His one-armed guillotine of Michael Bisping, his inverted triangle of Tim Boesch, and his rear-naked choke of Lyoto Machida are all difficult submissions to get in very high-level competition. What’s more notable, even though, is his ability to maintain top control with relative ease, the thing about Rockhold’s grappling is that once he has established top position, he is not only difficult to move, but he makes it seem somewhat effortless. Against David Branch, who is a far cry from Costa in terms of the level of competition, Rockhold found himself hurt but turned to his grappling and used that top control to recover and get the fight back to where he wanted. It was a major safety net he needed in that fight. Costa does not typically have one-punch knockouts, he swarms people and beats them down, but if he can hurt Rockhold without putting him fully out, it’s this safety net that could end up turning the fight on a 180-degree angle.
This is truly a fight that will be answering a load of questions. Rockhold’s chin will be a total unknown until we see him sustain some punishment from Costa, as will his look after the time off. Yet, if the two men come in at 100% and it comes down to skill, I give Luke Rockhold the edge due to his setups at kicking range and his potential takedowns and top control.
Pick: Luke Rockhold to win (+284 odds at MyBookie)
Costa is a brick house of a human being who has sledgehammers attached to his wrists and can kick like Thor cracks thunder. When he’s on, Costa is one of the most dangerous fighters in the entire UFC. He tends to be an aggressive counter striker who will stand in the center of the octagon, sometimes flat-footed and sometimes bouncing, while he jabs, feints, and snaps out cracking leg kicks with ease. His goal is to corner his opponent like prey where he can unload a devastating combination that almost always includes a rib-cracking kick and anvil of a right hand. Against more movement-focused fighters, Costa is happy to allow opponents to pressure him, he’ll take a shot, or several, and return fire. Despite being a power puncher, Costa lands with impressive accuracy and throws high volume.
However, he has shown long stretches of inactivity in the cage, often after a burst combination, where he stands still, absorbs shots, and tries to catch his breath. Like many successful counter punchers, though, this time spent recovering is not open season for his opponent because Costa can explode suddenly from a shell and land with a fight-ending combination. Costa is simply a dangerous and incredibly athletic power puncher with the ability to end the night in an instant. The recent criticism and likely cause for back-to-back losses have to deal with Costa’s mentality, not his ability. Costa barely struck in his championship fight and later claimed he was drunk. Then, in his fight with Vettori, Costa simply refused to make weight and offered a catchweight fight instead. Both fights were clouded by strange narratives, but the bottom line is he lost both.
Rockhold surprised many when he accepted this fight. He has not fought since 2019, and many expected a retirement announcement. However, the former champion is not only fighting Saturday, he’s said he still wants another shot at the belt. Where Costa’s mentality is nebulous, Rockhold’s is clear. In the octagon, Rockhold has remained one of the most consistent fighters in recent memory. The southpaw has redwood trees for legs, kicks like a mule, has impressive submissions but minimal wrestling, and seems almost intent on ignoring striking defense. Rockhold tends to stand tall in the cage, keep his hands low, and look to punch from odd angles, often striking upward from below his opponent’s line of sight. His volume is lower, but his accuracy is pinpoint. Rockhold’s goal is to create an opening for his famous left body or head kick. Standing southpaw, Rockhold’s power leg is his left leg, and he knows how to weaponize it with the best to ever do it. Rockhold, even at 37, should be able to throw his left without much of a telegraph, just as he’s done his whole career.
But, also consistent throughout his whole career, Rockhold does not protect his chin, especially after throwing a leg kick. He’s been knocked out five times, the last two coming in his most recent fights. Athletic, powerful, and massive for the division, Rockhold’s offense took him to the gold, but his defense, or lack thereof, is the reason he lost it and has struggled since.
A popular narrative is that this fight comes down to which Costa shows up. Will we see the killer we saw against Romero, the “drunk on wine” Costa we saw against Adesanya, the “catch weight” Costa we saw against Vettori, or someone completely different? While I fully expect to see a top-notch version of Costa- lean, mean, and dangerous- even if an alter ego shows up, I think it’ll be enough to beat the once-great Rockhold. Rockhold hasn’t won a fight since 2017, has shown chin issues and an inability to raise his right hand, and is a pressure-forward enough fighter to force engagement. Costa will be too fast and too powerful. Look for some feeling out in round 1 and then Costa to catch Rockhold in round 2, possibly countering a Rockhold kick.
Pick: Paulo Costa to win by KO/TKO (-190 odds at BetUS)
Paulo “Borrachinha” Costa is an incredibly interesting case study. From a positive perspective, he is one of, if not, the most powerful middleweight strikers currently on the roster. Whether it be a massive overhand right hand or a mesmerizing body kick, Costa can land with ferocious ability.
Continually, he is a fast and confident striker. The former is key given power without speed is often non-threatening, but for him, the ability to throw with speed aids him in landing power accompanied with landing with even more damage given speed is highly correlated to damage. The latter of his additional ability – confidence – aids Costa with willing to throw with all-out power. Interestingly, a fighter throwing power shots with all-out confidence often stems from having an impressive ground game, but for Costa, he throws all-out power with confidence, knowing he can trust his chin if he foregoes defensive technique in the attempt to maximize damage. While getting hit on the feet is a concern, Costa, similarly to Marlon Vera, trusts that his chin will hold up long enough to allow him to eventually land a devasting finishing attack – 11 of his 13 wins coming from TKO/KO.
Being one of the most intimidating strikers in the middleweight division is a positive for Costa, but the negative originates from a non-fighting perspective. What I mean by this is that Costa has seemingly surrounded himself with the “wrong people.” While I am indeed an outsider looking in, it seems quite obvious that Costa has gone off the correct path after analyzing the several fiascos seen during his championship fight against Adesanya, as well as his most recent fight against Vettori.
In the Adesanya fight lead-up, there are beliefs that Costa drank too much wine the night before the fight, thus contributing to his horrible performance in the octagon – he didn’t throw a right hand in that fight. In the Vettori fight lead-up, Costa was massively out of shape, to the degree the UFC, Dana White, and the commission had to move the scheduled 185lb fight to take place as a light heavyweight – 205lb – matchup.
While the oddities of Costa lend concern, there are two main reasons to justify the belief that the “wrong people” are no longer a problem. The first is that while Costa was massively overweight last time out, he did fight well – stuffed takedowns from a strong wrestler and looked like his normal self on the feet. The second reason is that he looks to be in impeccable shape leading up to this fight. If both small pieces of evidence are indeed correlated to Costa removing himself from a bad group, then he should be back on track to contending for a belt, given the skills are there for him to successfully do so.
Luke Rockhold was, at one time, one of the most revered strikers in the UFC. Standing out of the southpaw stance, Rockhold is often able to maximize his ability on the feet, particularly with landing devastating attacks from his left side. Perhaps his most feared strike is his left head kick, as he is able to throw it with little to no telegraph, and it lands with massive power. Given his opponent, when standing orthodox, has to continually think about the head kick, it opens up further striking opportunities to have effective boxing.
Similar to Costa, Rockhold is able to throw his strikes with confidence, beyond his innate skills on the feet. For Rockhold, in particular, the ability to throw confident strikes originates from his comfort on the mat – 8 of his 16 wins have come by submission. While Rockhold understands top position is far better than the bottom, his grappling acumen allows him to have comfort throwing dangerous strikes, which may result in a scramble which he has the talent to win.
Being a strong striker with grappling acumen is a recipe to climb the ranks and contend for a belt, and Rockhold has shown the ability to successfully do so, given he was the UFC Middleweight champion back in 2015. The issue for him, however, is that his chin has, at times, failed him. Moreover, this issue has increasingly surfaced given he is climbing up there in age, and thus, his durability is further depleted – he has lost three of his last four by KO. So, Rockhold will need to prove that a 3-year layoff from his last fight allowed his chin issue to dissipate, and there is no better opponent to face to prove said point if he is able to last against one of the most powerful middleweight in the division, Paulo Costa.
If both fighters were in their respective primes, this fight would be a potential FOTY. With that said, Rockhold is about 7-10 years removed from his prime; thus, I fully expect the more youthful, powerful, and durable fighter in Costa to prove too much for Rockhold to handle. While Rockhold may look to be doing somewhat well early on in the fight, I expect Costa to find his effective range and eventually land a massive right hand that will put Rockhold to sleep.
Pick: Paulo Costa to win by TKO/KO (-190 odds at BetUS)