The former middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker returns in his quest for a rematch with the current champion, Israel Adesanya. In his way, at UFC Vegas 24 is Kelvin Gastelum. These two were originally scheduled for UFC 234, however, after the weigh-ins, Whittaker had to withdraw from the bout with a hernia and a collapsed bowel. Originally the headliner was set to be Robert Whittaker taking on Paolo Costa, however, the Brazillian had to withdraw with an injury. Costa would have been competing for the first time since losing to Adesanya, however, it wasn’t to be.
Robert Whittaker has looked money since dropping the title to ‘The Last Stylebender’. Having gone on a nine-fight winning run, including two brutal fights with Yoel Romero, Whittaker admitted burnout as a reason for withdrawing from a scheduled bout following his title loss.
Taking on Darren Till in a main event in his return, ‘The Reaper’ managed to get the unanimous decision victory. He was able to outpoint Till over 25 minutes, despite getting dropped heavily. It was nice to see a fresh, motivated Whittaker return to the octagon.
Robert Whittaker then took on Jared Cannonier in a three-round co-main event. Although Cannonier had been on a tear, Whittaker made him look like he had no business being in there with the former champ. Whittaker notched a 29-28 victory on all cards but it doesn’t do his victory justice. He broke Cannonier’s arm in the bout on his way to getting his hand raised. You can catch the Cannonier fight here:
With a victory here, it would be hard to not put Whittaker in either a final eliminator or a title rematch.
Kelvin Gastelum steps in to this bout on short notice, replacing Costa. Luckily, he, similar to Robert Whittaker, won’t have to come up with a brand new gameplan as they already had a prepared gameplan from their previously scheduled bout.
Since that bout, Gastelum hasn’t performed well. Suffering convincing losses on three back-to-back occasions, Gastelum didn’t hit the heights he would have expected.
In what was the fight of the year, Gastelum took on Adesanya for the interim middleweight bout in a back and forth fight. Asking more questions of Adesanya than anyone else has at middleweight, Gastelum just couldn’t do enough to get the nod after a rough fifth round.
He then took on Darren Till in the Englishman’s middleweight debut and seemingly struggled with distance and couldn’t get going. This marked the first time in his career suffering back-to-back losses. The disappointment was piled on when he was submitted in just 1:18 via heel hook to Jack Hermansson. Three straight losses for Gastelum had him at a crossroads in his career when he took on Ian Heinisch at UFC 258.
Gastelum went back to his roots, landing six takedowns, a career-best. With 6:50 control time, Gastelum defeated Heinisch via unanimous decision to get back in the win column.
The Fight Itself
How do we predict the fight plays out? Robert Whittaker is the better striker and has a strong wrestling defence, with a takedown defence rate of 84%. If Gastelum will look to wrestle with Whittaker like he did with Heinisch will likely have an uphill battle on his hands trying to get the Aussie to the mat.
Gastelum does have a slightly better striking accuracy with 43%, however, has been outstruck in two of his last four fights, against Till and Adesanya. We also know that Gastelum can take a shot and has quick, heavy hands, which could make it interesting.
Robert Whittaker was preparing for five rounds with Costa and has a slightly longer average fight time with an average of 13:04. Although Gastelum wasn’t planning for five rounds, he’s been scheduled for 25 minutes four times previously so it’s nothing new for him.
Prediction- Whittaker via unanimous decision.
Embed from Getty Images