The UFC 278 co-main event had to be seen to be believed. Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold and one-time title challenger Paulo Costa engaged in a 15-minute brawl that featured a multitude of massive strikes, bad decisions, illegal shots, both men getting hurt multiple times over, and exhaustion. Lots of exhaustion. Costa won a shutout unanimous decision that was wilder than the scorecards suggest. It’s Costa’s first win since defeating Yoel Romero in 2019, and it was somehow an even wilder win than the Romero fight was.
A tearful Rockhold pretty much retired in the post-fight interview, succinctly saying “I’m f—king old.” It was his first fight since 2019 and it appears as if this was his swan song.
Rockhold started out throwing kicks and putting Costa on the backfoot. Luke shot in for a takedown and was met with a clubbing counter left, a sprawl, and a series of heavy punches in the clinch. The good news for Luke is that his chin held up to that onslaught of punches. A big left uppercut had Rockhold a little wobbly, and surprisingly Costa took Rockhold down. It was only the second takedown of Costa’s eight-fight UFC career, and an interesting decision given Rockhold’s talents as a grappler. Costa nearly moved to full mount, grabbing the fence in the process. Rockhold grabbed hold of Costa’s neck but there was no threat to be had there. Paulo did move to mount, but the former champion exploded up and back to his feet.
Four body kicks in a row by Rockhold had Costa playfully gesturing at his midsection. Of note was Rockhold’s busted up nose, which seemingly explained why he was breathing with his mouth open. When the round ended, Rockhold was doubled over in exhaustion. Costa was hardly fresh himself, but the body language was concerning.
Rockhold went out aggressively and he stunned Costa a couple of times, but he also ate a left hook on his way to shooting for a takedown. Rockhold got the takedown but in a rush to get the back, Costa was able to stand back up in an instant. Sensing Rockhold’s fatigue, Costa attacked the body with kicks and punches. Luke kept trying and even got Costa with a roundhouse kick and a straight left. This just became a weird slobberknocker between two men with compromised gas tanks. A very low blow by Costa hurt Rockhold and just as he sunk down and Costa attacked with punches, referee Mike Beltran paused the action and honestly it might have benefited both combatants to take a break. The fight resumed after about 95 seconds of break time. Both men were throwing high-energy shots with the hopes of getting a KO before they’d collapse to exhaustion. Rockhold had to be led to his stool after Round 2 concluded.
A body kick and two left hooks had Rockhold hurt to start Round 3. Costa threw a sloppy kick, fell backwards, Rockhold landed on top and then tried to advance to a dominant position. Because of course, Costa escaped and returned to his feet. A huge right hand hurt Rockhold badly but he came back with a straight left. All of this while he’s putting his hands on his knees intermittently. Fights don’t get any crazier than this. A left by Rockhold staggered Costa. Just insanity. Rockhold shot for a takedown, Costa sprawled and wound up in side control. With the two talking to teach other, Costa was ready to pass to full mount. He got back mount with about 90 seconds left in the fight. Blood was pouring out of Rockhold’s nose and his mouth as they were still jabbering away — it’s a continuation of their back-and-forths throughout fight week. Rockhold spun on top and then smeared his blood all over Costa’s face. That was, in many ways, the perfect way for this fight to end.
Official result: Paulo Costa def. Luke Rockhold by unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
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