Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the main event of UFC 234 as Robert Whittaker defends his UFC Middleweight Championship against Kelvin Gastelum.
Kelvin Gastelum (Record: 15-3, +195 Underdog, Power Ranking: A-)
The San Jose-born, Arizona-raised middleweight has quickly moved up the middleweight rankings having beaten some of the legends of the division including Vitor Belfort, Michael Bisping, and Jacare Souza.
The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner started his UFC career at middleweight, moved down to welterweight and is now a title threat at middleweight. He appears to finally have a permanent home in the 185-pound division. The 27-year-old Gastelum has become a very good stand-up fighter. He has great movement and combines strikes well. He lands at a good clip for the division at just under four significant strikes per minute. He combines that with excellent striking defense. Gastelum only absorbs 2.87 strikes per minute. He successfully defends 62 percent of strikes attempted against him. While Gastelum first started in MMA as a wrestling-centric fighter, he’s focused more of his effort on striking. It’s not to say he isn’t capable of grappling and winning by submission (four of his 15 victories are by sub), but it’s no longer his focal point. At 185 pounds, Gastelum’s conditioning has been on point and he’s been able to keep a pace that is one of the highest in the division. As importantly, Gastelum is a durable fighter. While he has been dropped in fights, he recovers well and has a resiliency about him. To this point, he has never been knocked out in his MMA career.
Robert Whittaker (Record: 20-4, -245 Favorite, Power Ranking: A)
The best MMA fighter to ever come out of New Zealand, Robert Whittaker has won ninefights in a row including a second round stoppage victory over Jacare and back to back decisions over Yoel Romero. Whittaker looks to extend his run as middleweight champion at UFC 234.
Robert Whittaker has become one of the most exciting fighters in the middleweight division. Whittaker’s approach is striking focused. He uses a variety of leg kicks from distance and then combines that with excellent hand speed to land well timed jabs from distance. Even though he’s one of the smaller fighters in the weight class, he does a good job at getting inside and striking with opponents. Hand speed is key for him as is his volume heavy approach (4.82 significant strikes per minute). His striking defense has improved in recent fights as his strikes absorbed per minute has dropped from over four to 3.65 significant strikes per minute. He holds his hands very low and relies on head movement to get out of range. While he does that fairly well, he is open to being hit and taking damage. He took quite a bit of damage in his last bout in which he was dropped multiple times by Romero. How that alters Whittaker’s durability moving forward remains to be seen. Defensively, Whittaker is able to focus on striking as he has excellent takedown defense (84%) and when he has been taken down he has the ability to scramble quickly back to his feet. Despite having a knee injury, Whittaker was able to stuff Romero’s takedown attempts in the final three rounds in their first meeting.
In what has all the makings of an exciting title defense, Robert Whittaker defends his title against Kelvin Gastelum. In a division with many aging stars, Gastelum and Whittaker are the best of the younger generation. Both in their twenties, it’s exciting to see the new generation have their showcase. Typically, Whittaker is the smaller fighter to enter the cage, but in this case he holds a three inch height advantage and a two inch reach advantage. This is a really intriguing fight as both fighters tend to stand in the pocket and throw strikes. Whittaker’s standup is a little more dynamic because of leg kicks and he packs a little more natural power, but Gastelum has great footwork and gets himself into positions to land flush. The biggest concern in this fight is the damage Whittaker took in his last fight against Romero. He was hurt badly multiple times in that bout and one has to question his durability moving forward. Just how much damage can he take moving forward especially against a good striker like Gastelum? In a fight where there isn’t too much to differentiate between the fighters, one has to side with the more durable fighter and in that case, it is the challenger, Kelvin Gastelum. At nearly two to one odds, the line is a bit off on Gastelum to win the fight. With that said, the better odds are on Gastelum by knockout (+350). If Whittaker is defeated, it will almost certainly be by finish.