Israel Adesanya shows off a crane kick during the face-off before the UFC 253 main event in Abu Dhabi's Fight Island. - UFC Twitter
The UFC 253 main card in Abu Dhabi's Fight Island on Sunday morning is loaded with uncertainties and expectations.
Can the undefeated middleweight champion Israel Adesanya survive the initial outburst that is expected from unbeaten challenger Paulo Costa?
Adesanya, the 31-year-old, knows for sure that his two years younger rival, is no Yoel Romero - his previous opponent at UFC 248 - who didn't attack and was happy defending while running the clock down.
Costa is a destroyer and he will not be holding back his aggression against Adesanya. For the record, No2 ranked Costa lands 8.43 significant strikes per minute - the highest striking rate in UFC history.
But can Costa last the rounds when it matters the most? The Brazilian has never really featured in five-round title fights. His best being a three-round win over Romero in UFC 241. The 29-year-old has never really tested the waters of the championship rounds.
Adesanya has acknowledged that it will be the 'fight of the year' if Costa can withstand the punishment for that long. In a power versus endurance contest, Adesanya has the advantage of winning three five-round battles before. The Nigerian-born New Zealander will thrive as the contest gets older. At 10, he has the third most knockouts in middleweight history.
Will Costa be able to lock horns for five rounds or produce one big knockout-punch in earlier rounds? In terms of finishing rate, it's Adesanya 74 per cent versus 93 per cent Costa.
The fighters are expected to be on their feet and not test their ground strengths much. Adesanya, with his kickboxing and boxing experience, has more techniques in his arsenal. 'The Last Stylebender' on a 19-0 MMA and 8-0 UFC record, knows how to make the most of his opportunities.
However, Costa, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, can deploy his grappling skills and test Adesanya on the mat with a possible submission move. The variety of abilities and fire power both the athletes possess makes this an enticing contest.
And there has been no dearth of animosity between the two with trash talk, theatrics, jibes and more.
Adesanya is eager to make it 20-0 MMA record and retain his belt.
"The octagon just reminds me of a colosseum. Walking to the cage, the octagon, is being like a gladiator," Adesanya said. "I don't feel the pain when I fight because adrenaline is one hell of a drug. Pain is nothing. I put myself in the uncomfortable positions in training because I want to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Pain is a state of mind. It only affects you if you let it."
Meanwhile, Costa seemed to have played a little mind game with the 'white belt' taunt during the face-off. "On the day of the fight everything changes to war mode, to take his head off, to kill or be killed. There is no reason to be anxious or nervous. Just relax, go inside and do what I love to do."
There is another co-main event where Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz will clash for the light heavyweight crown. Reyes nearly won the belt earlier in February against Jon Jones. He is tipped as the favourite to secure the title.
Main card (6 am start)
Middleweight: Israel Adesanya vs Paulo Costa
Light Heavyweight: Dominick Reyes vs Jan Blachowicz
Flyweight: Kai Kara-France vs Brandon Royval
Bantamweight: Ketlen Vieira vs Sijara Eubanks
Featherweight: Hakeem Dawodu vs Zubaira Tukhugov
(Preliminary card - 4 am; early preliminary card (3 am)
Paulo Costa flaunts his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt