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LAS VEGAS — Paulo Costa entered the Octagon at Apex on Saturday, his grudge match with Marvin Vettori only moments away. In 90 seconds, maybe two minutes, he’d be able to hit Vettori all he wanted.
But Costa made an angry charge at Vettori, interrupted by inspectors from the Nevada Athletic Commission. It’s not always easy to correctly read a person’s body language, but in this case, Costa’s body language screamed that he was feeling the pressure.
Vettori, meanwhile, was the epitome of calm. He signed for a bout at 186 pounds, then when Costa arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday at 218 and told UFC officials he couldn’t make weight, he signed a new contract for one at 195 pounds. When Costa didn’t think he’d be able to make 195, there was talk of a bout at 198 pounds before a third contract was signed at 205.
Vettori was going to do everything in his power to make certain that Costa didn’t find a way to get out of the fight. He smiled at Costa as the Brazilian nervously paced in his corner.
“We were trying to keep this fight alive and make sure that it happened, and we couldn’t have done it without a guy like Vettori,” UFC president Dana White said after Vettori won a unanimous decision in a classic bout with Costa. “He acted like an absolute professional, a stud. He was a guy who was incredible to work with.”
Vettori went out and fought brilliantly in a fight that delivered on its promise when it was originally made as a middleweight bout between the second-ranked Costa and the fifth-ranked Vettori.
Costa said a bicep tear cost him several weeks of training and was the reason he was unable to make weight. On Saturday, he weighed 220 pounds, while Vettori was 208.
“He was big,” Vettori said. “I clinched him one time and I said, ‘How big is this torso?’ I couldn’t get my arms around him.”
The size equated to power and Vettori said he felt Costa’s shots.
Costa’s behavior was odd during fight week, when he said the UFC suggested he fight at light heavyweight without prodding. White, other UFC officials, Vettori and his team all refuted that.
Costa revealed that the pressure of trying to rebound from his first career loss, a second-round TKO in a middleweight title fight against Israel Adesanya on Sept. 26, 2020, negatively impacted him.
“I had a very bad fight against Adesanya and there was pressure to come back,” said Costa, whose right foot was swollen, causing him to noticeably limp, the result of the many kicks he landed on Vettori.
Vettori went into the final round with a nearly insurmountable lead. He was up three rounds to one on all three judges' cards, and referee Jason Herzog deducted a point from Costa in the second because of an eye poke that Vettori said was very bad.
Costa seemed to be fading as Vettori pieced him up on the feet, but he found life in the corner. He stormed out for the fifth round and controlled it. He won the second, but it was a close round that could have gone either way. The fifth was a no-doubter for Costa.
He hit Vettori with a kick to the ribs that made spectators in the last row cringe, it was so vicious. And he continued to do that in the final round.
“He’s a light heavyweight; you guys saw him tonight, and he was massive,” White said. “The thing that stood out the most for me is that as big as he was, look at the cardio he had tonight. That was a f***ing dogfight. That was a war between two guys who both really wanted to win. In the fifth round, he came out and went after Vettori.
“The kick that he threw at Vettori’s body, the head kicks, the body shots, he was trying to finish the fight in the fifth round. He was in shape. It’s not like he showed up like a guy who had lost his mind and wasn’t training for the fight. He obviously trained. He just can’t make  any more.”
Vettori: Costa's 'full of s***'
Costa never apologized to Vettori for missing the weight which created all the nonsense that followed.
“Of course not,” Costa said, sneering.
Vettori didn’t particularly want an apology from him anyway.
Yet they put on an incredible fight that was a testament to their wills and skills.
Vettori showed an iron chin in this fight. He took some insanely hard punches and kicks and never so much as wobbled.
“I have a good chin, man,” Vettori said. "The thing is, your chin, it’s a mental thing, like willpower. If you get hit with a flush one, if you don’t want to get out of the fight and you want to stay in the fight, you’ll do that. You’ll find a way.”
He did, backing his angry prefight words. Often the fighters embrace and show respect for each other after a bout like that, but neither man budged afterward.
Vettori is moving on to better things and Costa is moving into the light heavyweight division, but Vettori couldn’t quite let go.
“He’s full of s***, to be honest,” Vettori said. “I don’t like how he carried himself. If I see him right now, I probably wouldn’t jump him, but I wouldn’t share a glass of nothing. F*** him. ‘You go your way. I go my way. You lost and you’re going to give me  percent of your purse. Go run, fat ass.’”
Costa stood and fought, as did Vettori and they capped an odd and eventful week the best way possible: They put on a spirited and breathtaking fight that Vettori unquestionably won.