Paulo Henrique Costa notched the best win of his career on Saturday, catapulting himself from prospect to contender, and he is making the most of his moment.
In an electrifying three-round war with former middleweight title challenger Yoel Romero on the main card of UFC 241, Costa prevailed by unanimous decision, despite the chorus of boos emanating from fans who believed the decision should have gone to Romero.
“The Eraser,” who was a guest on “Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show,” professed surprise at some of the tactics the former Cuban Olympian employed.
“He’s a nice guy, but he’s dirty,” Costa said. “In the first round, when I make a hook in his face, he went down then got up very quickly, and I [said] ‘Man I will knock him out in the first round,’ because he [felt] my punch, my first punch, and I started hunting him in the Octagon. And when I [was] close to [knocking] him out, he [pointed at] something, anywhere, I don’t know. Like ‘Look there Paulo,’ and I [lost] concentration, because he [pointed at] something, [like] maybe his mouthpiece [fell].
“And I’m not a dirty guy. I try to fight clean and when he [pointed at] something, like maybe a mouth piece down, I think ‘Man, maybe something happened.’ So I [lost] my concentration, and he punched my face, but he missed my face and hit my neck, and I [lost] my balance and I [fell], so this is one thing.”
Costa also landed an apparent low blow on Romero, leading the 42-year-old to fall down in pain and forcing a break in the action. According to Costa, however, the knee hit Romero’s stomach but Romero used the incident to catch his breath in the fast-paced fight.
“The second thing, my knee [did] not hit his balls,” Costa said. “My knee hit his stomach, and he said, ‘Oh, you hit my balls,’ and he jumped back, and the referee [said] ‘stop, stop.’ I don’t know him deep, but he’s a nice guy, he looks like a nice guy, but his kind of fight is not clean.”
Distaste for Romero’s tactics aside, Costa said he was happy to prove that he belonged inside the cage with the longtime contender.
“Wild fight, very brutal,” Costa said. “I feel happy, because I did my goal. I beat the beast. Yoel Romero is a beast, the most dangerous middleweight in the world. For a lot of people, he beat Whittaker, and Saturday I showed everybody around the world that I can be the champion. I beat a real beast, and I am more dangerous, more tough fighter than him.”
The 28-year-old said he’d like to travel to Australia for UFC 243 and be in the crowd to see who he’ll be fighting next: current champion Robert Whittaker or interim title holder Israel Adesanya, who are scheduled to unify the belts in the main event.
“I want to be there to watch live my next opponent,” Costa said. “I want to be there to pressure him. I think Whittaker will beat Adesanya, but I will be there to watch. And I’m here. You need to figure it out because I’m coming.”