While he had called for the fight with the knowledge that beating another former title contender would put him that much closer to another shot at reigning champion Israel Adesanya, Vettori couldn’t help but wonder if Costa would actually show up or not.
Since losing to Adesanya in September 2020, Costa had dropped out of two separate fights — one due to injury and another due to an apparent contract dispute with the UFC — and Vettori had to question if he was potentially signing up for inevitable disappointment.
“Yeah a little bit at the beginning,” Vettori responded when asked by MMA Fighting about his concern that the Costa fight would be cancelled. “Even the way he pulled out from the Jared Cannonier fight, so yeah definitely [had those concerns]. I’ve been seeing that he’s been training. This fight is going to happen. A little bit in the beginning but I kind of felt from when he accepted, it was time for him to come back and he wanted this fight.
“His manager was talking a bunch of sh*t like over and over, everyday, it’s like f*cking stop. I felt like they wanted this fight, too. There was a little bit of weirdness going on in the beginning in the last year for him. I’m glad it came together and we’re fighting.”
Of course, Vettori raising questions about Costa’s desire to fight came long before the Brazilian revealed earlier this week that he would not be able to make the middleweight limit for their fight and he had requested a catchweight just days before the event was scheduled to take place.
UFC officials told MMA Fighting on Wednesday that “the fight is on” after the athletes agreed to a 195-pound catchweight with Costa giving up 20 percent of his purse to Vettori as penalty.
Regardless of the weight cutting debacle, Vettori was already committed to fight Costa no matter – he was anxious to bounce back from his own loss to Adesanya in June. In that performance, he lost a unanimous decision to the reigning middleweight champion, and while it wasn’t a lopsided result by any means, it was still not the showing he wanted for the biggest fight of his life.
“It’s a problem on my side,” Vettori explained. “Because he did just enough to cruise, not risk much and get the ‘W.’ He just didn’t really engage, and that’s why when there’s battles and the clash of the fighters, that’s where my best comes out. But when disengaging turns to scoring, and fight that way, it felt like it was off. Then a couple of things went wrong, I definitely did some mistakes that I addressed and I know I have to work on and I worked on in this camp and in general.
“It’s a learning process on anything. I’m always improving and I’m always looking to get better. Overall, he just fought a very smart fight. That’s his best attribute I feel. He’s a smart fighter. More than a great fighter, he’s a smart fighter and again, this is on me. I should have made him fight my fight. Meanwhile, he was able to get away with it.”
While it’s not uncommon for a number of factors to play into a loss, Vettori refused to make wild claims about why he lost to Adesanya other than not putting on his best possible performance.
“That wasn’t the best me,” Vettori said. “With that being said, I’m not making any excuses like I wasn’t in shape or I wasn’t ready, any of that sh*t. I was in the best shape of my life and I was ready to go. He was smarter in that fight.”
As he seeks to move beyond that loss, Vettori will look to take out all of his frustrations on Costa this weekend.
He fully expects the ultra-aggressive Brazilian to come charging at him like a semi-truck going downhill with no brakes, which is exactly what the 28-year-old Italian wants.
“I expect him to come out ready and aggressive,” Vettori said. “He’ll definitely try. Then he’ll figure out it won’t be as easy, cause he’s never even faced anybody like me. Not even close. He’ll try. I expect him to come out ready and aggressive. It’s just I won’t let him put up his game. I will shut him off.
“I think I’m a superior striker. I’m a superior MMA fighter. I’ll be able to shut off his offense. I don’t expect him to come out weird or not ready. I expect him to be the best that he’s ever been.”
The only thing on Vettori’s mind right now is beating Costa and getting the win. But he’s still adamant about eventually getting back to another shot at the middleweight title. With two decision losses to Adesanya, he knows he’s going to have to work hard to book a trilogy. But time is on his side, and he’s ready to do the work to get back there again.
“If he ain’t going nowhere, I ain’t going nowhere,” Vettori said. “There’s just no way I’m not going to be seeing him again. I kept saying this before and I’m sure of this. Right now, it’s not even my focus but I know I’m going to see him again.”