LAS VEGAS — Many scoffed, or even laughed, at Marvin Vettori when he acted shocked at Bruce Buffer’s announcement following UFC 263 in June that made official Israel Adesanya’s unanimous decision victory over him in their middleweight title fight.
Seconds before Buffer read the judges’ verdict, when Adesanya greeted Vettori after the final bell, Vettori told him he believed he’d won the bout. Adesanya responded by making an odd face that was caught on camera.
Belief in oneself, however, is a critical element of success in all walks of life, but particularly in fighting.
The legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali once said, “I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.”
There are few in the UFC who believe in themselves more than Vettori, the fifth-ranked middleweight who on Saturday at UFC Vegas 41 will face No. 2 Paulo Costa in a critical matchup at Apex. Vettori is a -150 favorite at BetMGM to beat Costa (+125).
Adesanya won his title fight with Vettori 50-45 on all three cards, but Vettori told Yahoo Sports he left the cage even more certain that he’d one day become the UFC world champion.
“For sure,” he said. “What the judges saw is not the perspective of what the fight was. And there was all that s*** the media talked. I just want fairness, but of course, what is fair to one person, another person sees the same thing and it’s not fair. There’s common sense, and I think there was a lot of misjudging and misleading information about the fight.
“But it is what it is and it’s one of the reasons I never want to leave it in the hands of the judges. Regardless of thinking of whether I won or I lost, it’s not about that. I don’t want to leave it in the hands of the judges.”
Like Adesanya, Costa is a striker, but that is where the similarities end. Adesanya is a counter striker who looks to set traps, make his opponent overextend and then take advantage. Costa is an aggressive, attack-first fighter who is looking to take his opponent out with every strike he throws.
Both men are coming off losses to Adesanya; Costa was stopped by Adesanya in the second round last year. Costa seemed to mentally break even before the fight and went down in the bout without much of a pushback. The Brazilian then claimed he was "a little drunk" when he fought Adesanya after drinking "lots of wine" the night before the fight.
That came as a shock to the notoriously strong-minded Vettori.
“I thought he was joking [about some of the things he said], but then it came out that it was actually true,” Vettori said. “How the hell do you ever think to do something like that? It definitely shows some kind of weakness and some lack of what goes on in your own brain and mind.
“But at the end of the day, I’m expecting the best from him. He’s got a lot to prove, like we all have every fight, but especially coming off this one. So I expect the best version of him.”
The best version of Costa is a fearsome, intimidating figure with knockout power and a seek-and-destroy mentality. Vettori has done well with strikers prior to Adesanya, but Costa is at another level relative to most of them.
Vettori’s success comes from being well-rounded and meticulously prepared. There’s rarely something he sees in the cage that comes as a surprise to him. He not only prepares his body for battle, but his mind as well by giving himself as much information as possible.
But he says he’s also preparing by ignoring the outside noise, the critics who pick apart everything he does.
“This is like a game of chess and at this level, it’s a game of details, too,” Vettori said. “You can’t let emotions that may stiffen you up take over. You have to stay really centered. That’s what it is about.”
A win over Costa would be the biggest in his career and inch him back up toward the top of the middleweight rankings. It might take him longer to get another title shot as long as Adesanya holds the belt because Adesanya now has two wins over him, but Vettori isn’t one to fret about things like that, which are out of his control.
He’s going to do his thing and let his results speak for him.
And a win over Costa, particularly an impressive one, would speak volumes about where he stands in the middleweight hierarchy.