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ANAHEIM, Calif. – As long as no fight week mishaps occur before Saturday night, two of the UFC’s top middleweights will finally square off.
UFC 241 takes place Saturday at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+.
Since an originally planned matchup was supposed to happen Nov. 2018 at UFC 230, Costa and Romero have been linked. Through frequent questions in interviews to trash talk on social media, a score-settling fight has been inevitable.
Tensions seemingly reached new heights between the pair of 185-pounders, after a March 2019 appearance by Romero on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. During the interview, Romero stated that Costa had been flagged by USADA.
“What I hear is Paulo Costa, he had a positive test for USADA,” Romero said. “That’s what happened. That’s what I heard. The UFC called my manager and said Paulo Costa is out because he is positive and they said, ”Jacare’ Souza’ (as an opponent)?’ I said OK.”
Costa quickly refuted the claims and said he had never failed a drug test for doping. Weeks later, Costa was fined and suspended six months by USADA for prohibited IV use.
At a pre-fight media day held Thursday, Costa said the back-and-forth with Romero made things personal. The Brazilian emphasized how itchy he is to finally square off with the perennial top contender.
“I want to fight against him because he talked a lot of (expletive) about me,” Costa said. “It’s personal for me. Plus, I’m ready for everyone in this division. I’ll show everyone who is the new division of the king. It’s me. I can beat everyone.
He later added, “It’s 100% personal and he’s the number two or number one (contender). So, I’m very excited for this fight.”
While Costa doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the Cuban, he isn’t underestimating Romero’s abilities. Confident, Costa believes a win over Romero will propel him into title contention. With champion Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya set to square off at UFC 243 in October, Costa thinks he could be next and line with a win.
“This is the fight I’ve been looking for for a long time,” Costa said. “Romero is one of the toughest guys (in) this division. After I beat him, I’ll put one of my hands on the title. It’s a very important fight to be (in).”
When asked who he expects to face if the title shot comes his way, Costa gave his prediction. However, the fighter he picked to win is not the same one he hopes is victorious.
“I’d love to see Adesanya (beat) Whittaker because he talks a lot of (expletive),” Costa said. “I want to fight against him. But I think Whittaker will beat him, because Whittaker is more complete. He has better ground (fighting). Whittaker knows how to hold him on the cage and has more experience.”
The 28-year-old Brazilian fighter assured fans his injury problems are behind him. According to Costa, fans should expect to see the most in-shape “Borrachinha” they have seen thus far – “bodybuilder”-type shape.
“I feel better than last time,” Costa said. “I feel great. My speed is better. My power is better. My conditioning (and physically I’m) better. My mind is fresh now because in 2017, I did three fights, and my mind was very busy.
“Now I’m fresh. I don’t have serious injuries. I had them in camp, but now I’m 100 percent, and I’m ready to (put on) the best show for all you fans on Saturday.”
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