Getty Images

Visibly exhausted following a wild opening round, former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold used every drop of blood and sweat to make it to the finish line against Paulo Costa on Saturday and nearly scored a dramatic stoppage victory during an outright insane final round.  

In the end, the 37-year-old Rockhold (16-6) would call an official end to his career following a unanimous decision loss to Costa (14-2) via identical judges' scores of 30-27. CBS Sports scored the fight 29-28 for Costa.  

The loss halted a two-fight losing skid for Costa, the 31-year-old slugger from Brazil, which included a self-implosive failed bid for Israel Adesanya's 185-pound title in 2020. But the story of the fight quickly became Rockhold who, despite putting his hands on his knees amid exhaustion midway through Round 2, showed tremendous heart in his first fight since 2019 as he suffered his third straight defeat.

An emotional Rockhold was in tears after the fight before telling Joe Rogan during his post-fight interview that he had come to terms with retirement following a decorated 15-year career.  

"I've been through so much the last three years," Rockhold said. "Thank you to the UFC, but I f---ing can't do this shit anymore. I gave it my all but I'm f---ing old."

Costa hurt Rockhold midway through Round 1 with a series of right hands that bloodied his nose. Surprisingly, Costa shot for a timely takedown that saw him move to mount. Rockhold rallied for a four-pack of hard kicks to the body at the close but was so exhausted after the end of the five minutes -- a similar position he would find himself in after Round 2 -- that questions remained whether he could continue. 

Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including instant analysis of UFC 278 below.

Instead, Rockhold began loading up on every single shot and slowly timed Costa with counter left hooks and spinning kicks to the body. Rockhold briefly looked like he was close to getting stopped in Round 2 before a punch to the groin from Costa gave him time to recover.  

"This energy came through from this audience and it was amazing," Costa said. "The last time I fought in front of people was in 2019 with [Yoel] Romero. That fight was a war and this was, as well."

The third round was as insane as any in recent memory. Rockhold was sloppy and nearly fell over twice after missing punches. But a wild sequence later saw Rockhold scream "f--- you" at Costa before exploding with a big left hand that drew blood from Costa's increasingly swollen face.

Costa stuffed a desperate takedown attempt from Rockhold and threatened a choke from the back until Rockhold dramatically rallied once more to reverse the position and finish the round. Rockhold even drew cheers from the crowd in the final minute by rubbing his bloody face against Costa's head.  

"He surprised me," Costa said. "He created a lot of shots on the face and the chin. People usually say he doesn't have a good chin but he has."