Man oh man, Robert Whittaker is really good at mixed martial arts (MMA).
I wrote about his strange situation ahead of this fight, how Israel Adesanya’s unexpected rise to prominence disrupted what should have been an extended and dominant title reign. Even after losing his belt, Whittaker has continued to pick off top-tier contenders, the men Adesanya wanted opposite him to defend his crown.
Not only did that continue at UFC Vegas 24 last night (Sat., April 17, 2021) against Kelvin Gastelum, but Whittaker put on an absolute master class. Gastelum is famously fast and heavy-handed. Even when he loses fights, they tend to be rather close, and he usually knocks his man down at least once.
Not the case last night.
Whittaker was ahead of Gastelum from the first exchange, and that never changed. Throughout the course of 25 minutes, Whittaker showcased so much beautiful MMA. Coming over from the atrocious mess that was Triller Fight Club, it felt equivalent to a dying man stumbling through the desert and falling into an oasis.
Whittaker’s defense has never looked better. Short-notice or not, Whittaker’s previous preparation for Gastelum was on display. His right hand remained glued to his chin as he pulled back from exchanges, always anticipating that infamous Gastelum left hand. Rather than just block the blow, however, Whittaker frequently disrupted it, both with spearing right hand plants and intercepting jabs.
Then, there was the wrestling. A Karate-boxer like Whittaker should not be able to toss a talented wrestler like Gastelum from the body lock with ease (TWICE), nor should he hit a snatch single. Hell, he even denied Gastelum his excellent Gramby roll, taking his back in the final moments of the fight.
Whittaker outmaneuvered his foe on every level.
In truth, we should not have gotten to see much of Whittaker’s greatness. Instead, the right high kick he landed in the first couple minutes should have ended the fight. If not that strike, than several of Whittaker’s check hooks were chin-destroying blows. Despite his status as the smallest man at Middleweight, Gastelum’s chin is more solid than the foundation of most buildings.
Whittaker convinced him to walk into brutally hard jabs, hooks, uppercuts, and kicks, landing damaging shots to every level of Gastelum. Human refrigerator that he is, Gastelum walked straight through them and kept firing — both men deserve credit here for different reasons.
Regardless of Gastelum’s immunity to pain and damage, this was the attention-demanding performance that Whittaker had to have been hoping for. Even without the knockout, it was stunning. There is no other option than to give Whittaker a rematch with Adesanya. The Australian has clearly improved. He’s grown more patient — yet equally dangerous — at range. His offensive takedowns have become a more considerable threat, and given how hapless Adesanya looked off his back against Jan Blachowicz, that may be a viable path to victory.
He won’t enter as the favorite, but Whittaker has more than earned his shot with yet another championship-level performance.
For complete UFC Vegas 24: “Whittaker Vs. Gastelum” results and play-by-play, click HERE!