Throughout the majority of the build-up to UFC 291, Paulo Costa was a headline figure.
In May, UFC made an announcement about a fight between Costa and rising middleweight contender Ikram Aliskerov, scheduled for the main card of the July 29 pay-per-view. So why is the fight not taking place? On Wednesday, the popular Brazilian disclosed to MMA Hook that about “five or six weeks ago, a long time ago” he was aware that he wouldn’t be squaring off against Aliskerov at UFC 291. The announcement, according to Costa, was just a ploy by the promotion as part of a negotiation tactic amid a stalemate regarding Costa’s new UFC contract.
“It’s all about the art of negotiation,” Costa shared on The MMA Hour. “At one point, negotiations became quite challenging. But from the moment they mentioned Ikrim, I can assure you there was a 99 percent likelihood of it not happening. It was along the lines of, ‘We have this option, but we don’t have any other fighters available for you at the moment.’ Something along those lines.”
“I believe he’s an incredibly gifted youngster,” Costa added. “I didn’t spend much time analyzing his fights. I just watched his UFC bout against Phil Hawes, whom I trained with in 2015 when Vitor Belfort invited us to his fight camp against [Chris] Weidman a long time ago. And yes, I only watched that fight, but it’s not meant to disrespect him. I merely think he needs to climb the ladder and face more prominent names.”
Both Costa, 32, and Aliskerov were eventually withdrawn from UFC 291 and scheduled to fight in different bouts on Oct. 21 at UFC 294. Costa will take on two-division phenom Khamzat Chimaev, while Aliskerov will face top-15 ranked middleweight contender Nassourdine Imavov.
Having signed his new contract and with the fight against Chimaev officially set, Costa harbors no ill feelings about UFC’s haste to promote a fight he knew wouldn’t materialize.
“I consider myself a UFC fighter, you know? So it doesn’t irritate or upset me,” Costa expressed. “I simply believe this is within the company’s prerogative, and I’m fine with it.”
For Costa, the showdown with Chimaev represents the conclusion to a protracted negotiation process that has kept him inactive for 14 months by the time UFC 294 comes around. “Borrachinha” hasn’t competed since his victory over former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in an exhilarating bout in August 2022. Costa stated that the October date against Chimaev in Abu Dhabi was proposed to him at the start of 2023 and was a fight that UFC president Dana White strongly pushed for.
Costa expressed he had always been intrigued by the match-up, partly due to his ongoing conflict with Chimaev. What bothered him about White’s proposal for UFC 294 was the timeline.
“I just thought, ‘Bro, that’s too long. Why should I wait for this guy until October? Give me a fight. Give me a fight, UFC,’” Costa voiced. “And they say, ‘We don’t have any other fighters available for you.’ I retorted, ‘Yes, you do. You have [Sean] Strickland or [Jared] Cannonier.’ They responded, ‘We have different plans for you guys. Not to pit each other against each other.’
“I was waiting for a fight, and then they proposed [Jan] Blachowicz at 205 around May. I agreed, ‘OK, let’s do that,’ but Blachowicz was not training as he was on vacation. So they proposed [Magomed] Anklaev, who informed the UFC that he wasn’t training either due to the short notice, only two weeks until the fight. After that, I was left in a state of uncertainty. No fighters, no fights scheduled.”
As the negotiations regarding a new contract continued to drag on, Costa prepared himself for the concept of life after UFC as a free agent. He commended experienced MMA manager Tiki Ghosn for stepping in to resolve tensions once the conversations between Costa and UFC hit a wall. However, he admitted that there were times when he was on the verge of exiting the only promotion he’s been with since 2017.
“Indeed, I believe so,” Costa declared. “I think there was strong pushback from both sides. And yes, what I can confirm for you and for everyone who understands the situation, is that we were prepared to do everything necessary. … I was ready to take any path the situation led us to, whether leaving UFC or renewing the contract. We were always 100 percent certain that we could potentially part ways with the UFC or stay on. But I think we took the best route.
“I believe UFC is content. I’m ecstatic, and I think Hunter [Campbell], Dana [White], are happy as well because Dana personally requested this fight against Chimaev.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about UFC 291
Why isn’t Paulo Costa fighting Ikram Aliskerov at UFC 291?
Paulo Costa stated that he was aware about “five or six weeks ago” that he wouldn’t be fighting Aliskerov at UFC 291. According to him, the announcement of the fight was a negotiation tactic used by the UFC amid a stalemate concerning Costa’s new contract.
Who will Paulo Costa and Ikram Aliskerov fight next?
Both Costa and Aliskerov were pulled from UFC 291 and will participate in different bouts on Oct. 21 at UFC 294. Costa will take on Khamzat Chimaev, while Aliskerov will face Nassourdine Imavov.
How does Costa feel about UFC’s promotion tactics?
Costa harbors no ill feelings about UFC’s promotion of a fight he knew wouldn’t happen. He considers himself a UFC fighter and does not find it irritating or upsetting, stating that it’s within the company’s prerogative.
Why has Paulo Costa been inactive?
Costa’s inactivity is a result of protracted negotiations with the UFC that have kept him sidelined. He hasn’t competed since his victory over former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in August 2022.
What was the reason behind Costa’s potential departure from the UFC?
Costa admits that he was close to leaving the UFC due to drawn-out contract negotiations. He had prepared himself for life after UFC as a free agent, but credits veteran MMA manager Tiki Ghosn for resolving the stalemate in the discussions.