UFC 234: Whittaker vs. Gastelum Preview

UFC 234: Whittaker vs. Gastelum Preview

A preview of Saturday’s UFC 234 card, set to take place in Melbourne, Australia.

Updated: Feb. 6, 2019 • 7:31 PM ET

Kelvin Gastelum is looking to win his first title this weekend.

UFC 234 will take place in Melbourne, Australia this Saturday, as middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will defend his belt on home soil against No. 4 ranked challenger Kelvin Gastelum in the main event. The co-main event will also be in the middleweight division, as rising contender Israel Adesanya will face UFC legend Anderson Silva.

Whittaker is riding a nine-fight winning streak, but he hasn’t fought since June and only fought once in 2018. The June fight was a controversial split-decision victory over Yoel Romero at UFC 225, his second straight win against Romero, but a hand injury suffered in the fight sidelined Whittaker for the rest of the year.

The second fight against Romero wasn’t for the title because Romero missed weight. Romero hurt Whittaker badly in the fight while taking his fair share of damage, but after being wobbled, Whittaker weathered Romero’s storm and did enough in the judge’s eyes to get the decision. It isn’t difficult to wonder what the decision would have been if Romero made weight and the fight was for the title.

Despite the controversial decision, Whittaker has been the best fighter in the middleweight division since the start of 2017 with a TKO win over top contender Jacare Souza and the two Romero wins. The 28-year-old also has notable victories over Derek Brunson, Uriah Hall and Brad Tavares.

Whittaker’s last loss came in 2014, after which he moved up to middleweight from welterweight and has reeled off nine straight victories. The Auckland, New Zealand fighter will have the bonus of fighting in front a raucous crowd in his favor at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne this weekend, but a younger fighter on the rise will be waiting to challenge him.

Gastelum is coming off the biggest win of his career, a split-decision victory over Souza at UFC 224 last May. That win followed a highlight reel knockout of former champion Michael Bisping, which put Gastelum in prime position for a title shot. Gastelum, like Whittaker, has found success after moving from welterweight to middleweight, and he’s predicting another highlight reel finish on Saturday.

“I’m predicting a first-round knockout,” Gastelum said at the UFC 234 media day.

Gastelum continued, “It’s exciting knowing that he’s going to want to exchange and hopefully, it’s an exciting fight. I’ve been watching Rob for a long time now. Even before he was champion, I was like, this is a guy that’s gonna be a fun fight for me and I feel like it’s a fight that I can win, that I know I can win and I still feel the same way.”

The 27-year-old Gastelum has other notable victories over Tim Kennedy, Johny Hendricks, Nate Marquardt, Jake Ellenberger and Uriah Hall. He and Whittaker opposed each other as coaches on the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter.

 

Co-main event

The co-main event is expected to be a crowd-pleaser, as No. 6 ranked Israel Adesanya will put his rising star power to the test against former champion and fan favorite Anderson Silva.

Adesanya (15-0, 4-0 in UFC) is coming off his biggest win to date, a first-round TKO victory over Derek Brunson at UFC 230 in November, and the 29-year-old could be next in line for a title shot with a victory over Silva.

Many people have compared Adesanya’s fighting style to Silva’s when he was in his prime. Adesanya believes that after years of watching Silva, he’s ready to defeat him.

"I know him better than he knows himself," Adesanya said via ESPN. "My team's been studying him as well and I've been studying him for years. So I just know; I feel I can mimic him; some of his fights I can actually mimic the sequences that he's used to finish the guys off, or to get the guys started before he finishes them off.

"I just know too much, and the difference is the way that I'm playing the game: the mind. My mind is different, I'm Player 1."

Silva, the No. 15 ranked middleweight, has been out of action for nearly two years due to inactivity and a one-year suspension for a failed drug test due to contaminated supplements. His last fight was a unanimous decision victory over Brunson at UFC 208, and the 43-year-old believes his age will have nothing to do with the outcome of his fight on Saturday.

“It’s about how healthy you feel inside your mind and inside your heart,” Silva said via the Los Angeles Times. “If you love your sport, just keep doing it. You’ll find it makes everything in your life better.”

From 2006 to 2012, Silva won 17 straight fights and defended the middleweight title 10 times. He’s one of the most decorated champions in UFC history with victories over Stephan Bonnar, Chael Sonnen (twice), Vitor Belfort, Demian Maia, Forrest Griffin, Thales Leites, Patrick Cote, Dan Henderson, Rich Franklin (twice) and Nate Marquardt.

 

The rest of the main card

Bantamweight bout - No. 15 Rani Yahya vs. Ricky Simon

Women’s flyweight bout - No. 14 Montana De La Rosa vs. Nadia Kassem

Light heavyweight bout - Jimmy Crute vs. Sam Alvey

 

ESPN Prelims

Lightweight bout - Devonte Smith vs. Dong Hyun Ma

Featherweight bout - Shane Young vs. Austin Arnett

Flyweight bout - Kai Kara France vs. Raulian Paiva

Bantamweight bout - Teruto Ishihara vs. Kyung Ho Kang

 

UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims

Lightweight bout - Lando Vannata vs. Marcos Mariano

Lightweight bout - Callan Potter vs. Jalin Turner

Bantamweight bout - Wuliji Buren vs. Jonathan Martinez

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