While the MMA community was reeling from Ben Askren’s loss to YouTuber Jake Paul via first-round TKO, roughly 3,000 kilometres away on the other side of the country, the real fight was happening. Stepping in as a replacement for Paulo Costa at UFC Vegas 24, Kelvin Gastelum (17-7) faced off against Australia’s own former middleweight champion and current #1 contender Robert Whittaker (24-5) to remind the world what combat sports is really about.
Witnessing Robert Whittaker’s renaissance post-UFC 243 – becoming a more patient and calculating version of the brawler we knew and loved – has truly been a thing of beauty. Even if you didn’t know what you were looking at, if you stuck around long enough to watch the damage gradually build round after round, you’d surely understand the sheer dominance of his game.
From footwork to counters, combinations to wrestling, you simply could not fault Whittaker’s performance against Gastelum tonight. Whatever the latter threw at the former, it’d be returned twice over. By the end, the numbers reflected just that. Significant strikes: 150 – 62. Total strikes: 169 – 70. Takedowns: 4 – 1. Control time: 4 minutes & 19 seconds – 26 seconds.
To Gastelum’s credit, he answered the call on short notice, weathered the storm until the very end, and was carried away from the fray on his shield. And make no mistake… although his opponent endeavoured to make it a one-sided affair, he didn’t exactly make it an easy W. I think the majority of you would agree that Gastelum’s loss to Whittaker by decision was infinitely more honourable than Jake Paul’s victory over Ben Askren by knockout.
The main card even at UFC Vegas 24 highlights how combat sports should be represented, regardless of promotion and sub-type. This isn’t about hosting a Twitter grudge match in real life to cash in on what’s trending. This is where two athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to discipline show up at their very best and give each other everything they’ve got; not a stage for whogivesafuck celebrity hobbyists to lace up the gloves against an aging and clearly out-of-shape wrestler universally recognised for being a severely underdeveloped striker. In a sense, the parallel fights could not be timed any better.
It may be a little premature, but I’d say Robert Whittaker is right on track to avenge his loss against current UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya and potentially reclaim the throne.