Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight knockout artists Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum square off TONIGHT (Feb. 9, 2019) at UFC 234 from inside Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia.
Middleweight’s 28-year-old champion is not a man to be taken lightly. Whittaker was underestimated following his Welterweight run in 2014, but it turned out the Aussie was just entering his prime. Now in the midst of a 10-fight win streak, Whittaker will look to score the first official title defense of his career since Yoel Romero missed weight for the rematch. A former Welterweight like his opponent, Gastelum’s inability to manage his weight sent him to 185 pounds. Luckily, the move did not adversely affect his talent, as Gastelum has really figured out his approach to fighting and cemented himself as a legitimate contender.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Yoel Romero (UFC 225, UFC 213), Ronaldo Souza (UFC on FOX 24), Derek Brunson (UFC Fight Night 101), Uriah Hall (UFC 193), Rafael Natal (UFC 197)
Key Losses: Stephen Thompson (UFC 170), Court McGee (UFC Fight Night 27)
Keys to Victory: Whittaker is a fantastic kickboxer. Relying on great natural speed and smart combinations, Whittaker moves in-and-out on opponents with damaging blows, often far too quick for any counter shot. In addition, the improvements to Whittaker’s defensive wrestling over the years have been dramatic.
I talk about this in the video above, but Whittaker’s right kick will be hugely useful against Gastelum’s fast cross. Gastelum’s general mentality is simple: he throws every left hand like it’s going to drop his opponent, and he is unconcerned about his opponent’s offense. A man like that is dangerous, and it makes taking away or limiting his best weapon a priority.
The right kick can do that. Gastelum likes to carry both his hands low, which takes advantage of his hand speed by allowing him to throw from a blind angle. Low hands cannot block a high kick however. Plus, each high and body kick that slams into the forearm of Gastelum will take away just a bit of that speed.
Otherwise, I’d like to see Whittaker setting as high a pace as possible. Gastelum wears down over time and becomes less dangerous, whereas Whittaker is making it a habit to excel in championship rounds.
Record: 15-3 (1)
Key Wins: Ronaldo Souza (UFC 224), Michael Bisping (UFC on FOX 27), Johny Hendricks (UFC 200), Tim Kennedy (UFC 206), Rick Story (UFC 171)
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC on FOX 25), Tyron Woodley (UFC 183), Neil Magny (UFC Fight Night 78)
Keys to Victory: Gastelum is not a complicated fighter, but he’s a damn effective one. The Southpaw uses his wrestling background mostly to keep fights standing, where his piston like left hand almost always finds the chin of his opponent at some point.
Gastelum may be an underdog without the many offensive weapons of his opponent, but that left hand is a game-changer. There’s a clear path to victory for Gastelum, one that relies on copying Yoel Romero’s most recent strategy: aggressive counter punching.
Whittaker has great defensive tendencies, but he’s a high-volume striker. The nature of his style means he is constantly putting himself in danger even if he’s doing the right things to avoid getting hit. Gastelum’s left is one of the best in the business, and it often lands as his opponent withdraws their own strikes.
Gastelum has to make a decision early to counter kicks with punches. Romero scored his first knockdown on Whittaker by stinging the Aussie with an overhand while Whittaker was on one leg, and Gastelum should be looking to do the same. Furthermore, constantly trying to smash Whittaker mid-kick will help Gastelum negotiate that range disadvantage.
Bottom Line: There’s no chance of this being a boring fight. Both men come to scrap.
Despite coming off one of the most impressive performances in recent memory in a “Fight of the Year”-winner as champion, Whittaker is still looking for his first title defense. That’s such an odd statement — Whittaker has been a champion since the Summer of 2017. Nevertheless, adding on an official title defense to his record should help establish Whittaker as one of the sport’s most dominant athletes.
As with any title defense, everything is on the line.
For Gastelum, he’s been on the cuff of a title shot for years now, but previously his inability to make weight has plagued him. That’s less of an issue now at Middleweight, where Gastelum’s usual speed advantage over the average foe has only increased. If Gastelum can take out “Bobby Knuckles,” he’ll have truly lived up to all the potential he displayed on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). Plus, Gastelum is just 27 years old himself — there’s still plenty of time for the Arizona-native to do great things.
At UFC 234, Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum will duel in the main event. Which man will leave the cage strapped with gold?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 234 fight card on fight night, 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 check out the latest and greatest UFC 234: “Whittaker vs. Gastelum” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.