Combat Sports

Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold: A Tactical Breakdown

|
Image for Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold: A Tactical Breakdown

Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold serves as the co-main event of UFC 278. The bout between Rockhold, the former UFC middleweight champion, and Costa, the No. 6 ranked middleweight contender, is a guaranteed barnburner given the rising tensions and social media shots the two have taken at each other.

Originally scheduled for UFC 277’s co-main event, the bout was rescheduled at the end of May. This led many, including Rockhold, to speculate that Costa needed the extra month to make the 185-pound weight limit. Regardless of the reason for the delay, the bout promises to deliver sweet, sweet violence. Let’s take a closer look.

Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold – The Numbers

As we can see from the numbers (Credit @NateLatshaw), Costa not only throws more distance strikes but also has much higher accuracy in what he does throw. Rockhold has also historically been far more liable to bite down on his mouthpiece and eat a few shots in order to land a counter, which may partially explain his tendency to get knocked out. That strategy will likely not work against Paulo Costa, given Costa’s power and Rockhold’s seemingly glass chin. However, the same can also be said for Costa, who has absorbed nearly twice as many strikes as Rockhold per minute.

We can also see that the takedown numbers are strongly in Rockhold’s favor. However, it barely tells the whole story, as Paulo Costa was mainly a grappler during his time on TUF Brazil: 3, and his seven UFC bouts to date have only seen him go the distance twice. Once against Yoel Romero saw him taken down only briefly, and the other against Marvin Vettori, where he employed very effective counter-wrestling but opted to keep the fight standing.

Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold – Push and Pull

Wrestling-wise, Luke Rockhold would appear to have the advantage. His ability to use the cage to protect his head and prevent effective back takes is displayed extremely well against Chris Weidman. His ability to fight his opponent’s hands while they’re on his back is also fantastic. He displays a tendency to duck under looping overhands and spinning attacks in order to shoot a double-leg. Once he’s got his hands around his opponent’s hips, it’s almost inevitable that he will secure the takedown.

His guillotine is also an extremely effective weapon that he will use both to try and secure the submission, or to create a scramble. However, Rockhold’s ability to pass guard and advance position is one of the most underrated of any recent middleweight. As hard as it will be for him to get Costa down, it may be harder for Costa to get back up. Once he’s got his opponent on the ground, it’s Rockhold’s game to lose.

On the other hand, Costa has simply fallen out of favor with his jiu-jitsu black belt and prefers to erase his opponents with his hands. His size and ridiculous weight cut will also make it extremely difficult for Rockhold to secure a takedown unless he utilizes a more rotational style of wrestling to drag Costa to the ground. This is not out of the realm of possibility and will have been helped by training with Khabib at AKA, but then he has to deal with the submission threat of Paulo Costa. If Rockhold decides to wrestle, it will likely be in taking Costa’s back off a missed spinning attempt or ducking under one of Costa’s looping strikes and spearing a double leg.

Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold – Strike for Strike

As mentioned, neither man is particularly afraid to be hit. However, given Rockhold’s recent form, it would not be wise for him to meet Costa in the middle. Both men employ bone-cracking leg kicks from their rear leg. However, Rockhold’s signature question-mark kick from his lead leg could very easily catch Costa. Whether this generates enough power to turn off Costa’s light is the better question.

Costa on the other hand throws his rear leg towards any target with vicious intent. However, it is the lack of a read between low, mid, and high kicks that will be the deal breaker. With Costa’s lead-leg heavy stance, he was susceptible to leg kicks from Chris Weidman and was only able to get his leg out of the way in the later rounds. This, and his high guard will leave him open to Costa mixing up the body and head kicks to bait a low block and go high. The irony of this is that if Paulo Costa were to drill a question mark kick off his rear leg, he could very easily catch Luke Rockhold with it.

Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold – Prediction

Given their mostly mutually nullified wrestling and counter-wrestling, and both men’s egos, we can expect a stand-up battle. If Costa connects with half of the shots he landed on Marvin Vettori or Yoel Romero, he will flat-line Rockhold. However, given the severity of Costa’s weight cut, the same could be true in the other direction, and we would simply not know.

The differentiator, however, is Rockhold’s high guard leaving him open to shots to the body and his lead leg as a south-paw. We saw Costa almost finish Vettori with the body kick late in their bout. He also employed low and body kicks to distract from the impending head kick. If Costa bites on what he thinks is a body kick and it goes up top, we might be seeing the sequel to Left-Hook Larry – Shin-to-Chin Borrachinha.

How do you think Paulo Costa vs. Luke Rockhold will end at UFC 278 on Saturday night?

Featured image credit to Embed from Getty Images

Featured image credit to Embed from Getty Images

Share this article