There is no love lost between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa, as the two fighters almost made the fight happen early in their last face-off before their much-anticipated middleweight title bout at UFC 253 in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday (NZ time).
Their rivalry has been building over the past two years, with both men enjoying a similar rise to the top of the mixed martial arts field.
Both fighters have had impressive bouts on their journey to the top. The Nigerian-born Kiwi has fought the likes of legend Anderson Silva, Kelvin Gastelum (who gave 'Izzy' his toughest fight yet in the UFC) and former champion Aussie-Kiwi Robert Whittaker, in a knockout title win in front of 57,000 fans in Melbourne in 2019.
Costa has demolished his competition since debuting in the UFC in 2017. His rise has seen him finish all but one of his five fights with a KO or TKO, with the one decision-win coming over Yoel Romero. Romero has also fought Adesanya in what was Israel's first title defence after winning the belt from Whittaker. That fight was the last UFC live event with a crowd in attendance before Covid-19 stopped all events around the world.
For the past two weeks, Adesanya has been away from home, venturing to Las Vegas and Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, attending press conferences and meeting media obligations.
Adesanya says his opponent Brazil native Paulo Costa has never been far from his mind. He had a chance encounter with Costa in Abu Dhabi and was not impressed.
"I went there, sized him up, patted him on the shoulders to feel how dense he is. I shook his hand because I wanted to feel the kind of pressure he put on for someone who said 'I will not shake his hand when I beat him,' Adesanya told media.
"Someone that you've been barking at behind the fence, when you see them – I've never barked at him, I've just always responded – but he's always reacted to me. When he saw me in real life, what did he do? He submitted to me.
"He's insecure, that's why we're fighting each other. He was trying to make this whole narrative and always trying to clutch at straws because he wants to create something. I'm like 'f*** it, I don't like you'. At least I'm honest about it."
In their final face-off, it was a different story. At the official weigh-in just hours ago, the two middleweights met with UFC President Dana White in the middle.
Costa, donning a black belt for Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu mastery, gifted 'Izzy' a white belt in mockery of Adesanya's abilities. As expected, it did not go down well with the New Zealander.
The resulting scuffle had White and security breaking it up, but both challenger and champion continued with the fight banter for 30 more seconds afterwards.
"I knew he had a black belt, I knew he was gonna hand me a white belt and I knew he was gonna throw it at my face. Caught it," says Adesanya.
"Bro, I'm from Nigeria, capital punishment being a thing in my country I know my way around a belt because I've had a taste of the belt. So If you give me a belt, I'm a whoop your a**. That's what I did, I whipped him in the face."
With both fighters throwing their last mental jabs at each other, the physical game is just over 24 hours away. Both men are undefeated but one man will get their first UFC loss.
The highly anticipated bout in the United Arab Emirates is on Sunday at 3pm (NZ time).