Robert Whittaker will put his UFC middleweight belt on the line Saturday against Kelvin Gastelum.
The UFC’s first Aussie champion will attempt to defend his title on home soil for the first time this weekend at UFC 234 inside Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia.
Middleweight champ Robert Whittaker, who was born in New Zealand, but fights out of Sydney, will face California native Kelvin Gastelum. The 185-pound titleholder is coming off a decision win against Yoel Romero last June, and will be seeking his second overall title defense.
Here’s everything you need to know about the UFC 234 main event.
Robert Whittaker (20-4) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (15-3), Middleweight Championship
Odds: Whittaker -250; Gastelum +210
Robert Whittaker hasn’t enjoyed a whole lot of luck since becoming the UFC middleweight champion.
After he secured the title in late 2017, Whittaker’s first order of business was supposed to be a high-profile defense against Luke Rockhold the following year — in his home country of Australia. That opportunity was lost, however, when Whittaker came down with a staph infection.
He ultimately fought former silver medal Olympic wrestler and all-around wrecking ball Yoel Romero last June, in a rematch of an interim title fight that took place in 2017. Whittaker won a split decision, despite suffering a broken hand in the opening round.
The inactivity and lack of household-name opponents have prevented Whittaker’s title reign from truly taking off in the mainstream — but he did gain something through it all.
“I went 10 rounds with a monster,” Whittaker said. “No one else has.”
And that’s true. The fact Whittaker has spent 10 rounds in the Octagon with Romero since 2017 and remains a UFC champion is a heck of an accomplishment. Anyone who closely follows this sport will tell you Romero (13-3) is one of the toughest assignments you could possibly pull.
The future of Whittaker’s title reign is looking up, in terms of turning heads. The 28-year-old doesn’t engage in trash talk — almost to the point it’s comical.
What he lacks in trash talk, he makes up for in talent. Whittaker is a perfect 8-0 since moving up from the welterweight division in 2014, and he has fun, dangerous title defenses potentially lined up against the likes of Kelvin Gastelum, Adesanya and even undefeated Brazilian prospect Paulo Costa.
It may take some time, but the world will know Whittaker a lot better than it does now in the coming years. He’s already proved he has the talent to reign over this division; now he needs some big fights and a little bit of a luck to go with it.
For Gastelum, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There’s no reason for him to get cute or try to be something he’s not. His style is relatively simple, but it’s effective.
This man knows how to fight in the pocket. He trains under Rafael Cordeiro, who has always placed a lot of emphasis on sparring. Gastelum’s fast-twitch abilities and muscle memory within that pocket are second to none in this division. And that makes him incredibly dangerous.
So if you’re Whittaker, you obviously want to limit the amount of time you spend in the pocket. He has the tools to do that. It’s important to use the diversity in his striking, mix in kicks and (potentially) take Gastelum down to neutralize that bomb of a left hand. If he takes away the left hand, this fight becomes far less dramatic.
It would not surprise me if Whittaker challenged Gastelum’s takedown defense early. Ultimately, I don’t see the Aussie’s wrestling controlling the fight (this won’t be a repeat of Gastelum’s loss to Chris Weidman), but it might be worth it to test Gastelum there just a little.
Chael Sonnen and Brett Okamoto discuss fighters acclimating to Australia and the challenges Kelvin Gastelum pose for champ Robert Whittaker.
Because the more information and looks Whittaker can give Gastelum, the less Gastelum can successfully draw him into that straight left hand. And as much as I hate to make a UFC title fight about one punch, that is Gastelum’s best shot. He dares his opponents to swing, gets them to set their feet and then he finds a home for it.
If Whittaker stakes an early lead with the judges, it could have a snowball effect — as I don’t think Gastelum is quite as effective when he’s forced to press the issue. He’s at his best when he can calmly stalk, and fire on his opponents as they engage with him. If he has to cover ground on scorecards late, he’ll be at a disadvantage.
Prediction: Whittaker via TKO, third round.