Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is set to stage its first pay-per-view (PPV) offering of 2019, as UFC 234 is locked and loaded to go down tonight (Sat., Feb. 9, 2019) inside Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia.
The event was expected to be headlined by a middleweight title fight between champion Robert Whittaker and top contender Kelvin Gastelum, but Whittaker was forced out of the main event due to a hernia. As a result, the co-headlining act between former UFC champion Anderson Silva and undefeated contender Israel Adesanya will now serve as the main event.
Robert Whittaker knows he is the most underrated fighter on UFC’s roster. He doesn’t deny it, run from it or try to be anything he’s not just to get a bit more shine. The soft-spoken fighter hasn’t tasted defeat since moving up to the 185-pound division, where’s he taken on and defeated some of the best to win the top prize. Along the way, he never once badmouthed his opponents, all he did was let his fists and kicks do the talking to the tune of of eight straight victories. While some fans may enjoy the back-and-forth trash talk, “Reaper” won’t engage ... and he shouldn’t have to. That said, underestimating him has proven to be the downfall for many a fighter, as taking his kindness for a weakness is a bad mistake as many have found out. As quiet and polite as he is outside of the cage, he is anything but once the cage door slams shut behind him. Standing across from him is another respectful and quiet combatant who has slowly risen up the ranks to earn his first-ever world title fight.
Indeed, Kelvin Gastelum isn’t the imposing figure that Yoel Romero is, or the the flashy striker who knows how to get into his foes like Israel Adesanya. Gastelum, much like Whittaker, is as quiet and respectful as they come. But the former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner is all business inside he Octagon, dusting the likes of Tim Kennedy, Vitor Belfort and ex-champion Michael Bisping. What Gastelum and Whittaker have shown throughout is that they can, in fact, be cordial — they don’t have to create unnecessary drama and beef and still dominate. Once these two men face off against each other, I envision a back-and-forth battle that really is a crap shoot. Most have counted out Gastelum in his fights against top contenders, but he has a a great mixed attack with heavy hands to sleep the best of them. Would I be surprised if Gastelum got the win? No! But, Whittaker isn’t about to let his title go so easily ... especially not on his home turf.
For being the promotion’s first PPV event of the year, it really isn’t all the stacked. Thankfully, the main- and co-main events more than make up for it, but I’d like to think the promotion could have added a couple more big fights to load the deck. But don’t let Dana White hear you criticize the card for lacking more than two huge fights, taking one reporter to task during yesterday’s (Thurs., Feb. 7, 2019) presser for saying the card is top-heavy with nothing underneath to support it.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
Callan Potter stepped in to face Jalin Turner after Alex Gorgees was forced out for undisclosed reasons. Jim Crute was expected to face Ryan Spann, but after Spann was bounced from the card with an injury, Sam Alvey stepped in to take the Light Heavyweight showdown. Crute, though, won’t be an easy foe, especially on late notice as he is undefeated (9-0, 1-0 UFC) so far in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
White was trying to sell Crute as a PPV-worthy fighter against the aforementioned reporter, so it’s obvious the promotion wants to get behind him. If he can take out a long-time veteran like Alvey, it will boost his stock and prep him for bigger challenges. There is no need to rush him at this point, but “The Brute” is out to prove he’s the real deal.
Other than Spann’s hand injury, no other fighter was struck down by the injury bug.
We have three newcomers making their respective debuts at UFC 234. First up is Raulian Paiva, the flyweight combatant who has racked up 18 wins in 19 tries so far, making his way into the Octagon after impressing on Dana White’s “Tuesday Night Contender Series” (DWTNCS). In his way is Kai Kara France, who made good on his own debut in Dec. 2018, taking out Elias Garcia. This should be a good scrap between two talented 125-pounders eager to make names for themselves.
Marcos Mariano will also be making his Octagon debut tonight, as he faces Lando Vannata. Marion’s path to UFC made me scratch my head a bit, as he suffered a loss in his fight prior to getting a call up to the big leagues, something that doesn’t usually happen. Nevertheless, he will look to prove his worth against one of the most entertaining fighters in the Lightweight division. While he doesn’t have the best win/loss record so far during his UFC stint with one win, three losses and two draws, “Groovy” brings the action night in and night out. Just ask Tony Ferguson, who was dropped by Lando on several occasions in his Octagon debut.
Potter will look to earn his second straight win when he faces Jalin Turner in 155-pound action. Prior to his loss to Marcin Held, Potter was riding high with eight straight wins. After he hit a speed bump, Callan dusted himself off to edge out B.J. Bland, which was good enough to earn a UFC deal.
How The “Prelims” Look
Unfortunately, the underbelly of the event is lacking a bit. Headlining the “Prelims” is a 155-pound fight between Devonte Smith and Dong Hyun Ma. Dong has turned it around after suffering back-to-back losses in his first two UFC fights, winning his last three. Smith, meanwhile, blitzed through Julian Erosa in his own UFC debut in Nov. 2018 in less than one minute. Austin Arnett and Shane Young will both be looking for back-to-back wins for the first time in a while when they throw down in Featherweight action.
France will look to add to his impressive six-fight win streak when he takes on newcomer Raulian Paiva, who hasn’t tasted defeat in over four years and is currently riding a 12-fight win streak. To get a detailed look at the rest of the “Prelims” click here and here.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
As mentioned earlier, Vannata has one of the strangest records inside the Octagon. After losing to former interim Lightweight champion Tony Ferguson in his UFC debut in 2016, he went on to defeat John Makdessi with a sizzling highlight-reel knockout at UFC 206.
In his next four fights, “Groovy” suffered a loss, draw, loss and another draw. I don’t think that’s ever happened before in any organization. That said, Vannata needs to pick up a win against newcomer Marcos Mariano to get back in the winners circle, get back in good standing with UFC and avoid a potential pink slip.
Interest Level: 7/10
While the majority of the card is lacking, I am highly-intrigued the main- and co-main events, which is the reason for the decent rating. Anderson Silva will be back in action after two years on the sidelines because of his battle with United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA). At 43 years of age, “Spider” doesn’t exactly have much to prove in the fight game, dominating the Middleweight division for years as champion to the tune of 10 straight title defenses. He’s literally been there, done that, wiping the floor with all of the top 185-pound fighters in the world ... and a few Light Heavyweights, too.
The last few years haven't been too fruitful for the Brazilian bomber, though, dropping four of his last six outings, with one “No Contest” sandwiched between. He did prove victorious in his last outing against Derek Brunson. Still, it’s not too far-fetched to says his best days are behind him given the results of his last six fights. Plus, he’s been out of the game for two years, so facing someone like Israel Adesanya after a lengthy layoff is a big gamble.
“The Last Stylebender” is lined up to become UFC’s next big star. He’s already started off on the fight foot, beginning his MMA career with 15 straight wins (four inside the Octagon). While it’s easy to say Silva will be his toughest test to date, it’s purely out of name value. Not to say Silva isn’t skilled by any means, but had this fight taken place with both men at the peaks of their careers, we’d be singing a different tune.
Nevertheless, putting Silva’s name as another notch on his resume will be good for Adesanya, who recently teased a shot at the title with a win in “The Land Down Under.” There is no telling which Silva will show up. We could very well see a shell of his former self against the young stud, or we could see the Silva of old that would slice through his opponents like hot knife through butter, ruining Adesanya’s momentum. It’s that intrigue and mystery that will draw eyes to the fight. Just ask Israel.
Still the clash of “old vs. new” could steal the show, as both men prefer to stand-and-bang and have the highlight reels to prove it.
Rounding out the main card is Montana De La Rosa facing Nadia Kassem and Ricky Simon taking on Rani Yahya. At first glance, you wouldn’t think of those two bouts being PPV worthy. That said, Yahya is riding a three-fight win streak, while Simon hasn’t tasted defeat in two years, winning seven in a row including going two for two inside the Octagon. Winner of her first two UFC fights, De La Rosa is looking to make the most of her first PPV slot when she takes on undefeated (5-0, 1-0 UFC) prospect Nadia Kassem. And she isn’t shy in looking ahead, as she recently stated she is eying Paige VanZant with a win.
Enjoy the fights!
Full UFC 234 Fight Card:
UFC 234 Main Event:
185 lbs.: Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum
185 lbs.: Anderson Silva vs. Israel Adesanya
UFC 234 Co-Main Event:
155 lbs.: Lando Vannata vs. Marcos Rosa Mariano
UFC 234 PPV Main Card (10 p.m. ET):
145 lbs.: Rani Yahya vs. Ricky Simon
125 lbs.: Montana De La Rosa vs. Nadia Kassem
205 lbs.: Jim Crute vs. Sam Alvey
UFC 234 ESPN “Prelims” Card (8 p.m. ET):
155 lbs.: Dong Hyun Ma vs. Devonte Smith
145 lbs.: Austin Arnett vs. Shane Young
125 lbs.: Kai Kara-France vs. Raulian Paiva
135 lbs.: Teruto Ishihara vs. Kyung Ho Kang
UFC 234 Fight Pass “Prelims” Card (6:30 p.m. ET):
155 lbs.: Callan Potter vs. Jalin Turner
135 lbs.: Wuliji Buren vs. Jonathan Martinez
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 7:00 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: “Silva vs. Adesanya” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.