Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will take a break from its ESPN+ fight cards to bring mixed martial arts (MMA) fans its latest and greatest pay-per-view (PPV) offering, headlined by a middleweight title fight, as well as a 185-pound No. 1 contender’s clash.
Front and center will be Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum, who battle for “The Reaper’s” belt across five rounds of middleweight action. Unless, of course, something dramatic happens before the 25 minutes expire.
Speaking of dramatic, former 185-pound champion, Anderson Silva, makes his return to the Octagon against kickboxing import Israel Adesanya. The winner is expected to compete for the title, which means the winner of Whittaker-Gastelum already has his next opponent lined up.
Before we break down the main and co-main event (stream them on Amazon by clicking here), let’s take a look at what “Prelims” maestro, Patrick Stumberg, had to say about all the action spread across the ESPN and UFC Fight Pass cards by clicking here and here.
UFC 234 odds and betting lines can be unpacked here.
185 lbs.: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Robert “The Reaper” Whittaker
Record: 20-4 | Age: 28 | Betting line: -235
Wins: 9 KO/TKO, 5 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 6’0“ | Reach: 73” | Leg reach: 43”
Stance: Orthodox | Striking accuracy: 774 of 1901 (41%)
Ranks: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt | Takedown attempts: 4 of 7 (57%)
Record: 15-3, 1 NC | Age: 27 | Betting line: +195
Wins: 6 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 5’9“ | Reach: 71” | Leg reach: 39”
Stance: Southpaw | Striking accuracy: 637 of 1458 (44%)
Ranks: 10th planet jiu-jitsu purple belt | Takedown attempts: 9 of 18 (50%)
I know Kelvin Gastelum doesn’t always get the respect he deserves, and sometimes he brings the problems upon himself. Whether it’s smoking pot before a big fight or refusing to skip pasta night the day before weigh ins, the former Ultimate Fighter (TUF) champion has relied more on talent than hard work. That should give you a pretty good idea of just how good he is (and can be), as the porky welterweight masquerading as a middleweight has been able to notch wins over some notoriously tough outs in the form of Tim Kennedy, Michael Bisping, and Ronaldo Souza. He also neutralized Tyron Woodley back when Uncle Dana allowed him to fight at 170 pounds.
He’s solid in just about every area and should not be taken lightly.
Unfortunately for Gastelum, he’s facing someone his own age and not a thirty-something veteran who’s been through the proverbial mill. Also a former welterweight, Whittaker has been an absolute monster at 185 pounds and is now the winner of nine straight with five finishes. The big selling point is “The Reaper’s” ability to withstand the bludgeoning power of Yoel Romero and for good reason: it’s something no other fighter has been able to accomplish in UFC. How those brutal, five-round wars affected Whittaker’s ability to compete at the highest level is certainly a question worth asking, but at age 28, I’m not sure he’s going to exhibit any signs of deterioration just yet.
This fight is fairly simple for me, at least in terms of predicting. Gastelum is like that entry level video game character who comes with a basic set of sills, enough to get the journey started, and would eventually become Whittaker after a series of level-ups and in-game bonuses. “The Reaper” is simply better in every department and I don’t see where the challenger has an advantage. Gastelum is not the better boxer, certainly does not have the better cardio, and won’t be able to wrestle his way to a decision. He is one tough S.O.B., however, and will likely be in the fight for all five rounds, but don’t expect the scorecards to be close.
Prediction: Whittaker def. Gastelum by unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Anderson Silva vs. Israel Adesanya
Anderson “The Spider” Silva
Record: 34-8, 1 NC | Age: 43 | Betting line: +450
Wins: 22 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 3 DEC, 1 DQ
Height: 6’2“ | Reach: 77” | Leg reach: 42”
Stance: Southpaw | Striking accuracy: 740 of 1213 (61%)
Ranks: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt | Takedown attempts: 3 of 4 (75%)
Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya
Record: 15-0 | Age: 29 | Betting line: -600
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 5 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 6’4“ | Reach: 80” | Leg reach: 44”
Stance: Switch | Striking accuracy: 241 of 436 (55%)
Ranks: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blue belt | Takedown attempts: 0 of 3 (0%)
I know all the cool kids already have Anderson Silva dead and buried, based on his age and tough run over the last couple of years, but let’s not break out the pine box just yet. I think in the case of “The Spider,” his extended layoff was a positive (just like his last drug test), because it gave his body and mind the ability to heal, refocus, and reenergize. We know going into this fight against Israel Adesanya that the action is going to play out on the feet and that will actually work to “The Spider’s” advantage. Keep in mind, this is only a three-round contest and we can already call the opening frame a wash, as both strikers settle in, establish range, and flick the jab, waiting for the other to commit.
We never got the chance to see Silva test his striking — both offensively and defensively — against any real competition. Finishes over guys like Chael Sonnen, Stephan Bonnar, and Yushin Okami look great in the highlight reels, but are they a true measure of one’s technical prowess? Adesanya, meanwhile, was making his mark in the kickboxing circuit which admittedly, has a depressingly shallow talent pool as the marquee names jump ship in search of those MMA bucks. But even Silva’s most challenging opponents who were best known for their hands, like Vitor Belfort and Rich Franklin, would get embarrassed in stand-up fights against most of Adesanya’s past opponents, like Bogdan Stoica and Simon Marcus.
Silva is over the hill and hasn’t looked impressive in many moons, but that doesn’t change him as a competitor. Why does he still fight at this age? He certainly doesn’t need the money. “The Spider” is a fierce competitor and loves to win, and I would expect the very best version of the Brazilian come fight night. It won’t be enough, but I think some fans are going to be surprised at just how competitive this bout is, and Silva may even leave with a moral victory. If Marvin Vettori and Brad Tavares can make it a fight against Adesanya, so can the former champ.
Prediction: Adesanya def. Silva by unanimous decision
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 234 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.
To see who else is fighting at UFC 234 click here.