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UFC 234: Whittaker vs. Gastelum Pick

MMA Fight: UFC 234: Whittaker vs. Gastelum
Key Matches: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum
When: Saturday, February 10, 2019
Time: 9PM EST
Where: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, Australia
TV: PPV

by Loot, MMA Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Robert Whittaker, (-245), 20-4 (9 KOs, 5 Submissions) vs. Kelvin Gastelum, (+205), 15-3 (6 KOs, 4 Submissions)

From Down Under, UFC Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker defends his belt against a top challenger in American Kelvin Gastelum on February 10 at Rod Laver Arena. This looks to be a high-action bout between two middleweights who are at the top of their game. Whittaker, 28, is on a nine-fight win streak that includes winning the middleweight championship. He is coming off two straight wins over the feared Yoel Romero. Gastelum, 27, is coming off wins over top-flight opposition Michael Bisping and Jacare Souza, earning him this shot. Who can get the upper hand in Whittaker-Gastelum?

The locale of this fight is worth noting. It's not easy for a challenger to come to a champion's homeland halfway around the globe. This bout will take place in the Aussie morning so it can be shown on primetime in the USA. That might not suit either fighter, but particularly Whittaker, who will have to fight in what he is accustomed to being the morning hours. And Gastelum has been a frequent participator on overseas UFC cards, having fought in Brazil, China, along with appearances in Canada and Mexico City. All told, he has fought on foreign soil seven times.

Both men have some things in common. First joining the organization at welterweight, both men moved up to 185 pounds and have been better as a result. They're both roughly the same age and are both stocky for the division without a ton of length. They both made their bones on The Ultimate Fighter and both won their respective seasons. Both men have tremendous hands, but also possess well-rounded games that can translate to any type of fight in the octagon. And each man both holds a nice list of wins over some of the better fighters in a stacked 185-pound weight class.

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Gastelum has seen some ups and downs in his career. Weight-making issues, a drug test, and some in-the-octagon setbacks have been part of his rise to this spot. A 2017 TKO win over Vitor Belfort was overturned by a positive marijuana test. Losses to Neil Magny and Chris Weidman slowed his progress. But these are the common knocks that a young fighter faces on his way up the ladder. Gastelum has been a part of the UFC since he was 21. This has all been a part of his evolution as an MMA contender, as he still had a lot of maturing and developing to do. Only Weidman was able to beat him decisively, with his other losses being by split decision. That closeness also has a negative side to it, as he doesn't get a ton of separation from his opponents even in victory, especially against the top foes he faces.

Whittaker had some setbacks recently, as a staph infection reduced him to one octagon appearance in 2018. When Georges St-Pierre vacated the title after beating Bisping, Whittaker became the undisputed champ on the basis of a second win over Romero in June. Since losing to Wonderboy Thompson in 2014, he moved to 185 and has been hard to deter, with wins over Uriah Hall, Derek Brunson, Souza, and the two wins over the very formidable Romero. He has scored some eye-catching TKOs, while also showing he can last the five-round distance to outlast his opponents. Gastelum has been the 25-minute distance once, losing a decision to Magny.

Whittaker has been winning and is a good 7 months removed from a 25 minute back-and-forth battle with Romero that really took a toll. It was a war and Whittaker broke his hand and didn't have a ton of time to rest it. One has to assume he will be close to his peak here and he's going to need to be. But after two fights in a row with a guy like Romero, there could be some wear. Standing up with either man has proven to be hazardous. Standing up, these are two of the most-dangerous fighters in the division. After standing up to Romero both times, can Gastelum do one better? In terms of boxing, maybe Whittaker is a bit more-crisp. We'll see how much that resonates in this fight.

I think Whittaker has hit higher notes in his career, thought that's almost always the case when you're comparing the accomplishments of a champion to a challenger. Still, their resumes are fairly comparable. But Whittaker has fought more-compelling middleweights, however, and has shined against the best the division has to offer. Could Gastelum emerge victorious against Romero twice? Outings like Whittaker's KO of Jacare really stand out, whereas Gastelum beat Jacare by split decision. Still, we know how faulty that kind of math can be when breaking down MMA fights. Styles make fights and the styles of these two men suggests a well-matched contest.

Gastelum has been impressive in spots. Still, against Weidman, when the two went to the ground, Gastelum looked like a welterweight. I think Whittaker moving to middleweight was more a result of a guy who couldn't make 170 pounds, whereas Gastelum's was more from a lack of discipline and preparation. How that might register in this fight is iffy at best, but something still tells me that Whittaker has been the slightly more-professional athlete leading up to this point. That alone, however, might not give him much of an edge in this spot.

I think a time might come where Gastelum can win the title and even beat Whittaker. I don't think February 10 is the right time for him. Something about him makes it hard to forecast him doing what guys like Jacare and Romero were unable to do and beating Whittaker. I see the champion having a slightly-cleaner style in the stand-up, where long stretches of this bout will be spent. Combined with his experience over the championship distance, I see Whittaker emerging a narrow winner in this championship tussle.

Loot's Pick to Win the Match: I'm betting on Robert Whittaker at -245 betting odds. Did you know... that you could be wagering on the UFC at discounted odds? There's a better than good chance that you're laying inflated odds with your book. Stop overpaying TODAY by making the switch to 5Dimes Sportsbook! You will be so glad that you did!

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