Shortly after manager Wallid Ismael confirmed Paulo Costa’s withdrawal from his April 17 headlining bout against Robert Whittaker, the Brazilian middleweight spoke with Sherdog.com to discuss the illness that has delayed his return to the Octagon.
Costa made it clear that his current ailment has nothing to do with COVID-19.
"I had COVID on New Year's. Once I didn’t have strong symptoms I kept training,” Costa said. “I just found out it was COVID when I decided to get tested, and by then it was longer contagious.
”The flu I have now infected eight members from the team, including sparring partners and trainers. That one was really strong. To tell you the truth in my whole life only once did I have such a strong strong flu; it was in 2015. The American filming team arrived here to produce the weight cut and I tried to train one day, but the following day I was totally broken. At that point I talked to my doctor and physiologist and they advised me to postpone the fight, because I would need at least three weeks to return to normal training, and I would not be at my best. After the fight with [Israel] Adesanya I promised I would never fight again without being in my best condition, so I called Wallid and asked him to postpone the fight to May 1 or May 8.”
Costa did not hide his disappointment upon learning that Kelvin Gastelum would replace him and face Whittaker in the UFC on ESPN 22 headliner on April 17. However, “Borrachinha” does not have any regrets regarding his decision to pull out of the fight.
"I returned to training this week but [competing at] 60 percent is not ideal to fight on April 17, but for May 1 or May 8 I would be available in my best condition,” he said.
With the Whittaker fight off the table, Costa is hoping to square off against a ranked middleweight opponent when he is ready to return in May. There are at least a couple options that stand out.
"I would rather face a Top 5 [opponent]. [Jared] Cannonier or [Jack] Hemansson — anyone that both the fans or UFC want me to fight, I’ll be ready.”
When it comes to the rest of the 185-pound division, Costa expects Whittaker to defeat Gastelum and Darren Till to get by Marvin Vettori next month. The former No. 1 contender also weighed in on reigning champion Israel Adesanya’s bid to become a two-division titlist against Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259. His assessment was not as harsh as many observers.
"Everybody knows how I hate Adesanya, but I have to admit he fought better than I thought,” Costa said. “My prediction was that Blachowicz would beat him inside of five rounds.”
Costa’s animosity toward Adesanya stems the champion’s actions shortly after finishing their headlining bout at UFC 253.
"I was out and he did something totally disrespectful to me,” Costa said. “When I woke up, he came to talk to me like nothing had happened — that´s a dirty attitude of a bad character. I feel a mix of anger and contempt for this guy and when I met him, he will pay that bill. It´s a matter of time.”