UFC 234: Whittaker vs. Gastelum Main Card Preview and Betting Odds
by Max King Scores & Statson
UFC 234 is set to go down from Melbourne, Australia on 9 February, and in addition to being an outstanding location because of its passionate MMA fans, Melbourne is a great spot for the UFC to visit because temperatures have been so remarkably cold in the US and Canada as of late!
In the main event, Aussie superstar Robert Whittaker will put his middleweight belt on the line against TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum. Plus, the card’s anticipated co-main event will see former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva go to war with one of the fastest-rising and most dangerous prospects in the sport today, Israel Adesanya.
Let’s take a look at what can be expected from UFC 234’s main-card bouts!
Main Event: Robert Whittaker versus Kelvin Gastelum
Whittaker-Gastelum isn’t receiving a tremendous amount of attention from fans and critics, but make no mistake about it: this is one of the best middleweight title fights in years.
Robert Whittaker, a New Zealand-born Aussie, has quietly compiled a remarkable winning streak and resume. Half a decade separates him and his last defeat, and since moving to middleweight, he’s won eight consecutive matches, including triumphs over Uriah Hall, Derek Brunson, Jacare Souza, and Yoel Romero (twice). Whittaker can compete in any area of the sport, but his greatest strength is probably his ferocious striking, which, as we’ve seen, is capable of putting down even the most durable fighters. And speaking of durability, few athletes are as resilient as Whittaker is, both generally and in the face of adversity.
However, as a man who’s been historically overlooked, Kelvin Gastelum demands and deserves our respect. The TUF 17 winner was selected last in the competition and has been an underdog in quite a few of his matches, many of which he’s won. However, the reality is that KG is a tough, iron-chinned competitor who has been topped just once at middleweight, courtesy of a slick submission from former champion Chris Weidman. Prior to that, as a welterweight, Gastelum lost to Neil Magny and current-champion Tyron Woodley via split decision.
On any given night, Kelvin Gastelum can claim UFC gold.
This match should be a fun one—don’t be surprised if it’s awarded “Fight of the Night” honors. Although both these elite fighters moved up from welterweight, Whittaker will undoubtedly be the bigger man when the cage door locks, in terms of height (six foot to five-nine), reach (seventy-three inches to seventy-one inches), and weight. Consequently, he’ll probably look to exploit these advantages by landing punches and kicks from the outside. Additionally, he may take a page out of Chris Weidman’s playbook and attempt to drag the fight to the ground—something that’s easier said than done, but that may work to deplete Gastelum’s gas tank. For KG, the trick will be getting inside and uncorking power punches. If Gastelum can assume top control (his takedowns are underrated), he should do so, as he’s a beast on the mat.
Don’t miss this excellent title fight.
Co-Main Event: Anderson Silva versus Israel Adesanya
Whether you’re a new fan or a longtime follower of MMA, Anderson Silva shouldn’t need an introduction. “The Spider” is one of the most dominant champions of all time, and his pinpoint strikes have helped him to defeat countless fighters, including Rich Franklin, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Demian Maia, and many, many others. Israel Adesanya is newer to the game, but he’s been so dominant that comparisons to Silva are common. A former kickboxer, Adesanya is undefeated as a professional mixed martial artist and has finished thirteen of his fifteen opponents with strikes.
Don’t let the betting odds make you believe this will be a squash match. While it’s true that Adesanya is younger and faster than Silva, this is still Anderson Silva we’re talking about. His last fight, a win against Derek Brunson, proved that he still has what it takes to compete with the best martial artists in the world. Moreover, Silva is by far the most difficult test of Adesanya’s young career.
Look for both men to try and find a home for their specialty—strikes. Silva, however, has something of an edge in his clinch abilities and his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, both of which he would be wise to exploit.
Again, ignore the betting odds and enjoy this ultra-fun bout.
Rani Yahya versus Ricky Simon
Rani Yahya is perhaps the most underrated fighter signed to the UFC. He’s been part of the company since 2011, during which time he’s lost in just three instances. His world-class submission skills have allowed him to tap-out many high-level fighters, including Johnny Bedford and Luke Sanders. With a main-card win here, Yahya can earn a shot at a top-ten or top-five opponent. But he’ll need to get past Ricky Simon first, and that won’t be an easy task.
The twenty-six-year-old Simon has won seven straight fights, including two UFC matches. He’s a well-rounded martial artist who possesses impressive submission abilities, and if he beats Yahya, he’ll be catapulted through the rankings.
Although Simon has solid ground-fighting skills, he’d be wise to keep this bout standing and land as many strikes as possible as quickly as possible; once Yahya gets an edge, he rarely lets up. And for Rani, moving in close and completing takedowns is probably the way to go. This should be an enjoyable featured fight, and the winner will instantly become a contender for the belt—or a contender to be a contender for the belt.
Montana De La Rosa versus Nadia Kassem
Montana De La Rosa, wife of UFC Flyweight Mark De La Rosa, has proven that she belongs in the UFC. She’s won three straight contests and has made a name for herself as a submission specialist. De La Rosa’s UFC 234 opponent, Nadia Kassem, is undefeated as a professional. She’s secured four of her five career wins via knockout, and as a result, her gameplan against De La Rosa isn’t much of a mystery.
This classic striker-versus-grappler match-up should be entertaining, and although the phrase (and its variations) probably sounds a bit tired by now, the winner will be in an important position ranking-wise; flyweight is wide open, and one impressive performance can allow an athlete to jump to the top five.
Sam Alvey versus Jim Crute
“Smilin” Sam Alvey has stepped up on short notice once again; Jim Crute’s original opponent, Ryan Spann, was forced to withdraw from the contest due to injury. Now, Australian fans and those watching around the world are set to experience a fast-paced, riveting battle between two highly underrated strikers.
Sam Alvey has made a name for himself as a man who will fight anyone, anywhere, at any time, and as a man who brings it each and every time he steps into the Octagon. He’s earned some fantastic wins during his UFC career, and if he can spoil the undefeated record of Australia’s Jim Crute, he’ll be one big step closer to title contention.
Alvey loves to strike and finish opponents, Crute loves to strike and finish opponents, and these styles and specialties will coordinate to produce must-watch MMA action. Be sure to tune in for this fight; it’s up there with the main and co-main events in terms of potential excitement.
UFC 234 will go down at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia on 9 February. The main-card fights highlighted here will begin at ten in the east and seven in the west on pay-per-view, while the televised prelims will be shown on ESPN two hours prior, and the early prelims will be broadcasted on UFC Fight Pass sometime in the afternoon.