Two years ago this fight was set up as a championship bout, so you can count on these fighters putting on a good show.
While the boxing world spends Saturday night watching a YouTube star box a retired MMA fighter in Atlanta, we’ll have our attention squarely turned to Las Vegas for the main event of UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Gastelum. This fight has been two years in the making. Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was originally scheduled to defend his belt against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 234 in early 2019, but the fight was called off after Whittaker was forced to undergo emergency stomach surgery just hours before the fight. There is a lot of respect between these fighters, but with a chance for each of them to get back into championship contention in the middleweight division, don’t expect this fight to be anything but brutal.
Robert Whittaker UFC Fight Night Odds
Whittaker (22-5 MMA record) comes in as the No. 1 middleweight contender. The 30-year-old New Zealander’s only loss in the last seven years was at UFC 234 when he lost the middleweight belt to current champ Israel Adesanya. He had been on a nine-fight winning streak before the Adesanya loss and he’s won his last two fights since losing the belt. Whittaker fought twice at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in 2020. He picked up a five-round unanimous decision win over Darren Till in July, before a winning a three-round unanimous decision against Jared Cannonier at UFC 254 in October. There’s a lot of movement at the top of the middleweight contenders list, so another dominant win on Saturday has got to be enough to get Whittaker a shot to take his belt back from Adesanya.
“The Reaper” originally debuted in the welterweight division and he still possesses the speed and quickness of the lighter weight class with the one-punch power of the heavier middleweight fighters. Whittaker uses that speed to dart in and out of opponents’ reaches and his high fight IQ makes him difficult to figure out. He likes to come in with a game plan, but he’s willing to throw that out the window and engage in a brawl if he needs to mix things up. His unpredictability helps him trick opponents and there’s always a risk he’ll unleash a devastating 1-2 combination followed by a high kick. Bottom line, there’s a reason Whittaker is a former UFC champion and Gastelum is about to experience it first-hand on Saturday.
Kelvin Gastelum UFC Fight Night Odds
The 29-year-old Gastelum (16-6 MMA record) has had a spotty record since this original fight was called off in 2019. He suffered a unanimous decision loss to Adesanya, a split decision loss to Till and a first-round submission loss to Jack Hermansson. The American did get back in the win column in February, though. Gastelum looked like he was back on track in a unanimous decision win over Ian Heinisch at UFC 258. He’s the No. 8 contender in the division and while a win won’t set up a title fight opportunity for him right away, he still should be pretty close.
Gastelum is a powerful striker with legitimate knockout potential. He’s sneaky, quick and has the ability to get in and out of the pocket smoothly. Other fighters can be fooled by his southpaw stance and he’s constantly bouncing on his toes, making him a hard target. Although wrestling hasn’t always been Gastelum’s strength, he’s made big strides over the last few years and he can control his opponents if he sees an opportunity. If he can blend together his striking ability and increasing wrestling skill, he’ll give Whittaker a tough fight.
Whittaker vs. Gastelum UFC Fight Night Prediction
Two years ago this fight was set up as a championship bout, so we’re in for a great show. Gastelum looks like he’s back in top form and he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet. Saying that, Whittaker never left his top form. His only loss as a middleweight was to Adesanya and he’ll likely get his chance for revenge later this year. This fight could go the distance, but Whittaker will leave with a clear unanimous decision win.