UFC 241 is coming up soon and on August 17th, 2019 we have something great. In a contender bout between Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa, we have two of the most natural athletes in the UFC. In this article, I will examine how athleticism has carried the Natty Boys’ careers and how this fight will play out.
Both fighters have been accused of steroid abuse but since both have passed their USADA tests, they must be clean. Should Costa win, he will likely take the torch from the aged Romero and become the next “Nattyweight” (exactly 187.7 pounds) champion. Both Romero and Costa have been vindicated after slanderous accusations of USADA violations, their natural physiques and physical abilities can no longer be questioned.
Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa
In 2009, Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero made his MMA debut. At the time he was already 32-years old, and a new career in MMA after his Olympic wrestling run seemed uneventful. However, he has since proven that age is merely just a number.
Balancing Savvy and Athleticism
When Romero first entered the UFC, his athleticism was on show. Against Clifford Starks and Ronny Markes, Romero would knock both men out in emphatic fashion.
The key to understanding Romero offense is his explosive athleticism. Early in his UFC career, Romero would stalk his man down, light on his feet in-and-out, looking for bursts of action.
However, Romero understands that he can’t just burst and kill his opponent. Therefore, Romero employs a wealth of feints and non-committal strikes. Feints force his opponent to think and reduce their striking numbers, while the kicks and punches, sting and irritate them.
Romero also uses a lovely outside step into his left hand which baffles most of his opponents.
By numbing his opponents into passivity, Romero can catch them by surprise.
However, in recent years, Romero’s athleticism has gone into decline.
The Aging Cuban
In his last three fights, Romero has gone 1-2. Of course, these two losses have come against Robert Whittaker and the most recent was by a razor-close split decision. However, Romero has taken his style into an extreme. He still bursts with violence, however, the breaks in-between have increased exponentially.
In his first fight against Whittaker, Romero came out the same as he did before – pressuring Whittaker and going for explosive takedowns/strikes.
However, Whittaker would deny Romero prolonged wrestling exchanges by scrambling to the fence and standing up as a result. Additionally, Whittaker would deny Romero his breaks by constantly feinting and stinging Romero with light shots.
The gameplan worked wonders as Romero needs to control the pace in order to burst in with his athleticism. Romero further exhausted himself by going for fruitless takedowns and by the fifth round, was gassed and weakened.
Romero would lose the decision and perhaps he understood that huge bursts for takedowns may have drained him as a result.
A New Approach
Coming out against Rockhold, Romero looked defensive. Purposefully focusing on his defense, Romero would paw and deny straight shots while looking for singular bursts or one strike. Romero would also change out his in-and-out footwork, for careful, slower footwork.
By relying less on distance striking, Romero would be hit more. But, staying close to his opponent, Romero’s big rushes of violence can come faster and with less telegraphing. This, in turn, allows him to hurt Rockhold without burning through his cardio.
By forcing Rockhold to be wary of his bursts, Romero could feint his way in and knock him out.
The Absence of Wrestling from Yoel Romero
In his second loss to Whittaker, Romero noticeably took even longer breaks. In the first round, he hardly threw a strike. Furthermore, Romero’s plodding style left him stuck in place while Whittaker circled, feinted, and jabbed him up.
Yoel Romero would badly hurt Whittaker a couple of times coming out of his shell and counter-striking. However, the absence of his wrestling in both the Rockhold and Whittaker fight was noticeable.
Perhaps the wrestling exhausted Romero too much? Understandably Romero has slowed, he’s 42-years old, but his athletic bursts are still dangerous. Still, wrestling against the new breed might save his nattyweight championship.
Little Rubber Turned Big Puncher
One quick google search into Paulo Costa’s appearance before the UFC and now will shock you. Costa achieved his body through regular doses of hard work and dieting.
If Yoel Romero is jazz, then Paulo Costa is the seventh-grade kid banging his triangle like the champion he is. To start, Costa is a brawler, his movement and footwork are basic on the attack to non-existent on the retreat.
Coming forward with full-force punches and weight on his back leg. Costa puts his hands up in a double-forearm guard. Whenever opponents punch at the guard, he swings back.
When his opponent backs up or circles, Costa throws a hard kick then punches off of it. Or he can simply punch at the guard and hurt his opponent. Simple.
When Costa has his opponent on the fence, he doubles down on the body punches.
His opponents, therefore, have two options – bang with Costa and get knocked out, or circle and try to wear him out. Against Uriah Hall, Costa’s biggest challenge came against the jab.
Because Costa only puts up the double forearm guard, the small MMA gloves can sneak in between and sting him. This swelled up his face and gave Hall opportunities to blind him for a takedown or to hurt him with power.
Still, Costa’s insane athleticism and sheer grit let him walk Hall down and finish him. However, for a fighter that relies on his boxing to win fights, it would be best for him to learn how to get inside without getting his head popped by the jab. Regardless, if Costa wants to be a top contender, leaning away from his athleticism a bit and adding some thought into his strikes would be a first.
Who Can Bang Harder?
This is a fight where Costa needs to seriously improve his overall game. Romero can get flustered when his opponent disrupts his breaks, Costa needs to push with non-committal strikes. For a balls-to-the-wall fighter like Costa, this seems unlikely. However, a well-educated jab and distance management can go a long way.
Another strength Costa brings is his right hook to the body. Against a wrestler, drilling hooks to the body can reduce the number of shots they take, as the hooking fighter can use the same arm as an underhook.
Still, Costa has yet to prove that he can move his head preemptively and against a fighter like Romero, Costa may for the first time be at an athletic parity.
Taking the fight to Romero and keeping him on the fence seems like the ideal gameplan for Costa, however, he needs to prove that he won’t get smashed getting there.
Turning Back the Clock
Yoel Romero definitely aged in recent fights. His speed, while fast, has decreased and the increased difficulty in his weight cuts have become harder. However, Romero is still a crafty veteran and knows how to make up for his deficiencies.
Firstly, Romero has always possessed good timing for his kicks. This can definitely upset Costa, as he needs to maintain a long stance in order to throw with power.
Secondly, rewatching the Johny Hendricks fight with Costa has me thinking that Hendricks was onto something. Unfortunately, he was dwarfed at middleweight and horribly in decline. However, by making small bursts off the cage Hendricks was able to hit Costa with a straight and finish with a leg kick. Costa never checked the kick and by the end of the first round had absorbed well over a dozen leg kicks.
By bursting into a punch to low kick combination, Romero can play with Costa’s expectations and make his takedowns easier should he choose to do so. Furthermore, Romero’s favorite combination the outside step to left-hand should work wonders in combination with takedowns.
This is a fight where both fighters may have found someone who can match them physically. Yoel Romero has blown people out of the water for years now, and Costa has just started his snowball. For Romero, this is a perfect time for him to knock down the prospect, while he’s still fresh.
For Costa, he needs to make major improvements and show that he is more than his capped delts. While both fighters have grown to be some of the nattiest bangers in the UFC, they have still yet to show that they can excel when their athletic advantage has been taken away.
Still, both of these men have shown that when they get going, they can smash their opponents. This could be a three-round game of chicken, or one can blow the other out of the water. Regardless of which I am extremely excited to see Natty Boys banging at the highest level.
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