Paulo Costa believes impressive performance at UFC 302 can vault him to title shot

Paulo Costa knows it won’t be easy to earn another UFC title shot.

It’s been almost four years since Paulo Costa last challenged for middleweight gold, falling to Israel Adesanya via second-round knockout at UFC 253. He has fought just three time since that September 2020 event, going 1-2 in that stretch, but could keep himself in the thick of the title picture if he beats Sean Strickland in the co-main event of UFC 302 this Saturday in Newark, N.J.

Costa is presumably behind Robert Whittaker in the contender pecking order, having lost to the former champion this past February. However, if he impresses against Strickland, and Whittaker falters against Khamzat Chimaev in June, he sees a path back to a championship opportunity.

“I think [because Strickland] already beat [Israel] Adesanya, if Adesanya beats Dricus [du Plessis], if Sean beats me, he’s going to be next. But let’s see, we never know. I have a beef with Adesanya as well and against Chimaev, everything can happen. Let’s see Saturday.

“I think who delivers better on Saturday is going to step in front, it depends how the fight’s going to be. If I knock him out [with] great style Saturday, and the fight in [Saudi Arabia between Chimaev and Whittaker] is not so good, we can be in front of them. It depends how I’m going to perform.”

Dricus du Plessis currently reigns atop the middleweight division after defeating Strickland via split decision in January. It has been assumed for some time that his first title defense will take place against his rival Adesanya, though that matchup has not yet been made official.

Paulo Costa knows his chances of leapfrogging Whittaker are slim, so it will be bad news for him if Whittaker’s upcoming fight goes as expected.

“It’s a hard fight to predict,” Costa said of Whittaker vs. Chimaev. “From what I watched when [former UFC welterweight champion Kamaru] Usman fought Chimaev, I think with proper camp, I don’t know how many rounds, even three or five, Whittaker has some advantage against Chimaev.”

Paulo Costa was excited to talk about his own fight camp, crediting additions to his coaching staff for helping him improve and prepare for Strickland.

Though Paulo Costa hasn’t scored a knockout victory since 2018, he remains must-see television, having earned two Fight of the Night awards in his past five fights and given Whittaker an early scare at UFC 298. On Saturday, he has 25 minutes to prove that he should be the one to fight for the title next.

“My version against Whittaker was pretty good,” Costa said. “I think we just make some adjustments. Of course, every fight you can upgrade, you can evolve every fight, and we are very hard workers. So all the coaches, everyone, they work so hard to improve me, to advance my level, and I agree with [coach Eric Albarracin]. Each camp, I’m better than before. I’m still in my prime. Only 33 years old, I feel great, my body is responding even better and better. I don’t know until when [this will stop], but right now I can [assure] you guys, every fight I’m going to show better and better.

“For this fight, five rounds, even better, because I have more time, more minutes if the fight goes until the fifth round, so we have a lot of time to show. You guys saw the recent fight against Whittaker, the spinning back heel kick, I don’t think anybody expected that. For this fight, you guys are going to see even more things, from ‘Giga Paulo Costa,’ ‘Giga Chad.’”

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