Originally scheduled to compete in Saturday’s co-main event in Abu Dhabi, Costa was forced off the card after being hospitalized with a serious staph infection in his elbow that required surgery. Costa had to undergo three separate procedures to deal with the fallout from the infection, and he was not medically cleared to compete on Saturday, per his team.
“I know it’s not a popular answer for [Khamzat] right now … Paulo Costa can be a pain in the ass, no doubt about it, but he’s seriously injured,” White said on Thursday during the UFC 294 pre-fight press conference. “He’s seriously injured and needs to get his elbow taken care of. He had a massive staph infection.”
Despite the infection in his elbow, Costa said he planned to fight – but doctors said otherwise. Once it was clear that the Brazilian middleweight couldn’t compete, the UFC scrambled to find a replacement before securing former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman as a new opponent.
While White may not always speak glowingly of Costa, who’s been scratched from several octagon bouts over disputes outside the cage, the UFC CEO weathered a storm of boos from the local crowd as he defended Costa for his withdrawal.
“It’s legit,” White said. “If it wasn’t legit, I’d be the first one to say it. Absolutely legit that guy is seriously injured, and he needed to do what he needed to do. I know that is not a popular answer for Khamzat but it is the truth.”
Chimaev, however, wasn’t buying it. He erupted at the question even being asked about Costa’s future after he was pulled from UFC 294.
“Don’t ask questions about that s***,” Chimaev said. “The guy went home. He s*** himself. Be honest, brother, he s*** himself. That’s why he ran.”
There’s no word yet on how long Costa might be sidelined after dealing with the staph infection. He most recently fought in August 2022, earning a win over former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold. He then inked a new multi-fight contract to stay with the UFC. The first matchup under the new deal will now have to wait.