Rescheduled after a failed pairing at UFC 234, April 17th’s. UFC Vegas 24 headliner between former undisputed middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker and one-time interim title challenger, Kelvin Gastelum brings with it potential title implications for the victor.
Gastelum replaces most recent championship chaser, Paulo Costa on short notice, however, despite the change of opponent, Auckland fan favourite, Whittaker hasn’t wavered at his new task; predicting a second round finish over the longtime Kings MMA standout.
Originally slated to the headline the aforenoted, UFC 234 card in February of 2019, then-defending champion, Whittaker was forced to remove himself from proceedings the morning of the event — requiring a surgical procedure, due to a twisted and collapsed bowel, as well as an abdominal hernia. As a result, Gastelum was removed from the event entirely — with an interim championship instated in Whittaker’s absence.
Inserting himself back into contention at 185-pounds, The Ultimate Fighter 17 victor, Gastelum rebounded from a three-fight skid at UFC 258 in February, taking a unanimous decision victory over Ian Heinisch. And immediately after his judging triumph, Gastelum made it clear that he would be on standby if the promotion required a replacement for either Whittaker or Costa on April 17th.
Riding a pair of unanimous decision wins over both Darren Till and Jared Cannonier into the main event tilt, Whittaker, who makes his first Octagon appearance since October believes he’ll score a second round stoppage over Gastelum.
“I think I’m going to be too much for him (Kelvin Gastelum),” Whittaker said during a recent interview with MMA Junkie reporter, Farah Hannoun. “My striking is too crisp, I think I’m too fast. I think I’ve got too many weapons. He may try to take me down a couple of times, and I only think it’ll work to his detriment because it’s a five round fight and wrestling takes it out of you.“
“I think I put him away in the second. … All I know is I’m going to go into this fight the best Robert Whittaker I’ve been, and I’m going into this fight very happy — and a happy Rob is a very dangerous one.“
In the clash of TUF victors, Whittaker has embarked on a two-fight winning run since dropping the middleweight crown in a unification clash with current kingpin, Adesanya back in October of 2019 — adding the above-mentioned duo of Till and Cannonier to prior career wins over Yoel Romero (x2), Jacare Souza, Derek Brunson, Rafael Natal, Uriah Hall, and Brad Tavares to name a few.
San Jose puncher, Gastelum would firmly insert himself into title contention with a victory over the #1 ranked Whittaker, adding the 30-year-old to previous triumphs over the likes of common-foes, Souza and Hall, as well as former middleweight champion, Michael Bisping, Tim Kennedy, former welterweight titleholder, Johny Hendricks, former Strikeforce gold holder, Nate Marquardt, Jake Ellenberger, and Rick Story.