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UFC Vegas: Whittaker vs Gastelum - Apr 17 🇺🇸


wandshogun09
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Saturday 17th April in Las Vegas. We’re finally getting that UFC 234 main event from 2 years ago...

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ESPN+ MAIN CARD 
Robert Whittaker vs Kelvin Gastelum

Andrei Arlovski vs Chase Sherman 

Abdul Razak Alhassan vs Jacob Malkoun 

Tracy Cortez vs Justine Kish 

Luis Pena vs Alexander Munoz 

ESPN+/FIGHT PASS PRELIMS 
Juan Espino vs Alexandr Romanov 

Jessica Penne vs Lupita Godinez

Gerald Meerschaert vs Bartosz Fabinski

Austin Hubbard vs Dakota Bush

Tony Gravely vs Anthony Birchak

 

As always, ignore that bout order. It’s not final and you know it’ll change. I’d have thought we’ll still be getting a few fights added yet but there’s only about 3 weeks to go so they need to be pulling their finger out. It’s not the strongest of Fight Nights but whatever. It’ll do. Couple of really good fights on there, let’s hope they stay intact.

 

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Robert Whittaker vs Kelvin Gastelum headlines. It wasn’t the original plan, we were meant to get Whittaker vs Paulo Costa. But Costa pulled out and here we are. And as replacements go, this is about as good a save as they could’ve possibly made in my opinion. There’s actually some history to this one as well.

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In 2018 these two coached The Ultimate Fighter opposite each other. Do you remember that? I barely do either. It was the season which produced those household names Juan Espino and Macy Chiasson as tournament winners and it was long after I’d stopped watching or giving a shite about TUF. What I do remember though, is that after the show finished, we were meant to get the champ at the time Whittaker vs Gastelum for the title at UFC 234 in February 2019.

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It was all set. Signed, posters put out, media done, press conference, the lot. They even weighed in, as you can see above. They made it right to the day of the show and then Whittaker had to pull out to have emergency surgery to sort out a hernia and a twisted and collapsed bowel. Which sounded fucking grim. So the fight was off at the eleventh hour. Gastelum tried to make the best of a bad situation and showed up at UFC 234 anyway, with a UFC title belt (which he borrowed from Henry Cejudo), declaring himself the new champion due to Whittaker losing via forfeit or something...

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Of course, this was all shite. Whittaker hadn’t been stripped and was still champ but it was an attempt by Gastelum to keep his name in that title mix. I get what he was going for but it was all a bit cringey. He wound up facing Israel Adesanya for the interim strap in the April, and lost on points in a FOTY thriller. Whittaker would return in October to face Adesanya in a unification match, and got knocked out.

So Whittaker vs Gastelum was the title fight that got away. Izzy had swooped in, beat them both and snatched the title in the process. Since then, their attempts to rebuild have been night and day. Whittaker took some time out following the loss to Adesanya and was dealing with some personal stuff. But he’s since bounced back in style with wins over Darren Till and Jared Cannonier in 2020. For Gastelum it was a bumpier road. He lost to Till and then got heel hooked in a minute by Jack Hermansson. Added to the Izzy loss, that’s a 3 fight skid. But he got back on track in February with a win over Ian Heinisch. And here we are. Costa dropped out and Gastelum came to the rescue...

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Actually it might just be Nasrat Haqparast arsing about.

Despite the late notice for Gastelum, Whittaker doesn’t seem to be taking him lightly at all.

“I found out through my coach. I hate last minute changes and I hate things like this changing. I was really upset for a little bit but I got over it. The work’s been done, the camp’s been great, I’m fit and the idea of not fighting on that date is just silly.

There weren’t a lot of options because a lot of the middleweight division is tied up. Gastelum really was the only one that was a potential possibility. I kind of owe a fight to him anyway, right? So it’s a good fight. I think he’s one of my hardest fights to date. I think he’s a very good fighter. I think people look too much into his recent losses and it takes away from how good he actually is. That’s the game when you’re at the top of the food chain. Everyone is a hard fight and they’re just gonna give you more and more hard fights. You can’t win them all.” - Robert Whittaker 

Quality fight. If Whittaker wins this it’s going to be difficult to deny him another crack at Adesanya. Especially now Kevin Holland is out of the running for a bit as well. Most of the top 185ers are coming off a loss and rebuilding at this point. Whittaker coming off 3 big wins would put him above the rest whether Izzy’s interested in doing the rematch or not. And even if Gastelum wins, I don’t know if he’d necessarily deserve a title shot but I can see them jumping on the Adesanya rematch. So there could be high stakes to this one. Even more now Adesanya’s just lost up at 205. He’s not going to be fucking around with Jones or Glover or whoever anytime soon so it’s back to business at 185 for him. And I can’t really think of anyone who’d have as strong a case for a crack at the gold than the winner of this fight. Maybe Brunson but if they’re going to do a rematch with Izzy, you have to think the Whittaker vs Gastelum winner will probably get the nod over him.

 

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Andrei Arlovski vs Chase Sherman. Late switch up and for once it’s an improvement. The original matchup was Sherman vs Parker Porter and it was a nothing fight. Porter’s cack and his lone claim to MMA ‘fame’ is that he once shared a cage with a young Jon Jones back in 2008 and got stopped in 36 seconds. He’s done absolutely nothing of note in the 12+ years since so him dropping out and Arlovski stepping in is a nice upgrade. Yeah, Arlovski’s on the slide, he’s 42, coming off a submission loss to Tom Aspinall etc. But he can still go to a certain level. Nowhere near as explosive as he once was but he still managed to beat a couple of younger, fresher HWs before that Aspinall loss. He’s not completely shot, just a faded version of himself. Always cool to see him on a card though. The big wonky faced sod made his Octagon debut at UFC 28, for fuck’s sake! And Sherman’s usually good value, to be fair. It wasn’t him who was turning me off the original Porter scrap. He’s coming off 4 straight stoppage wins. Yeah, you look at the guys he’s beaten and it’s hardly a Goldberg in 98 streak. But he’s a banger and likeable enough with it. His last brawl with Ike Villanueva in May was a lot of fun. Not an amazing fight or anything but could be decent and Arlovski brings a bit of name recognition at least. 

 

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Abdul Razak Alhassan vs Jacob Malkoun. Could be fun. Alhassan has become known as a knockout artist. He’s 10-3 and all 10 of his wins came by knockout in the first round. 6 of them in under a minute! He packs a fucking punch. It’s all gone wrong of late though. He was gone for 2 years from 2018-20 because he was on trial for 2 rapes. In the end he was found not guilty but fuck knows what went on. I was becoming a fan of his before all that came out, now I don’t know what to think. Since he returned last year he’s gone 0-2, missed weight for both fights and got sparked in just 30 seconds by Khaos Williams in November. Talk about tasting your own medicine. Khaos made a highlight reel of him. And speaking of highlight reels, Jacob Malkoun’s UFC debut couldn’t have gone much worse. He got blitzed by Phil Hawes in 18 seconds. He was 4-0 going in and he’s a teammate of Robert Whittaker. So he’ll be in camp with Whittaker for this card. Hopefully it goes better than his debut. We didn’t even get a proper look at him last time.

 

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Luis Pena vs Alexander Munoz. Might be alright. Pena is usually in decent fights. He’s 8-3 and comes in off a submission defeat to Khama Worthy in June. No world beater, he’ll probably never amount to much, but he’s entertaining enough for his spot on the card as basically prelim/midcard filler. Basically a white, ginger version of Alex Caceres for me. Don’t really remember Munoz. His face looks familiar but no bells are ringing on fights. He’s 6-1 and lost a decision against Nasrat Haqparast in his UFC debut in August. His most notable win so far came against Nick Newell on DWCS in 2018. But...Newell has one arm.

 

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Tracy Cortez vs Justine Kish. Not particularly fussed. Cortez has looked quite promising in spells and, with a pretty face and Hispanic blood etc, she’s obviously potentially marketable if she can keep delivering in the cage. Haven’t been blown away by her fights so far but she’s looked decent enough. She’s 8-1 overall now, the loss being her MMA debut back in 2017. She’s been winning ever since but I don’t know. Until we see her against tried and tested opposition the jury’s out. Kish could provide a bit more of a test, to be fair. She’s not had the best run of late, she’s 7-3 now and 1-3 in her last 4. But she’s got wins over Nina Ansaroff and Randa Markos and she has a fair bit of experience in combat sports overall. Mostly Muay Thai but also a black-belt in Kenpo and has dabbled in Pro Boxing. She should be able to ask some questions of Cortez that we haven’t seen her answer yet.

 

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Juan Espino vs Alexandr Romanov is ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** this time. I like this one a lot actually. Could be a really interesting clash providing they’re up for grappling as that’s both of their bread and butter. And they both look like they can put the bread and butter away, don’t they? Anyway, Espino is a 40 year old Spaniard who fights out of American Top Team. He’s a BJJ specialist with an 11-1 record and 8 finishes, most via submission. He also won TUF back in 2018. The clock is ticking, he’s obviously no spring chicken, so he needs to be getting a move on if he wants to make a proper run at Heavyweight. He’s looked good so far, to be fair, but his opposition has been subpar at best. Romanov quickly got my attention when he signed with the UFC. He’s 30 years old with a perfect record of 13-0, all finishes. He’s subbed Roque Martinez and Marcos Rogerio De Lima so far in the Octagon. Nothing outstanding about those wins, both are cack. But Romanov’s been fun to watch. Really strong submission game and he loves a suplex which is always cool to see.

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This should be his toughest fight to date though by far. Espino is no joke and he has the BJJ chops to where Romanov really shouldn’t be having it all his own way. So we should see Romanov put to the test in a way we haven’t seen before. On the flipside, I think this is the sternest test of Espino’s career so far as well. So it’s an intriguing one. It has the potential to be a really fun ground battle but there’s also the risk they both respect each other’s grappling too much and opt to just engage in a bit of a sloppy striking match.

 

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Jessica Penne vs Lupita Godinez. Didn’t expect to ever see Penne back, to be honest. She’s lost her last 3 fights in a row now (one of them being a truly horrific beating from Joanne Jedrzejczyk back in 2015) and she’s only fought twice since. She had a bunch of injuries and then got slapped with a USADA suspension in 2018. She’s trying to make a comeback at 38 and I just don’t see her doing much of anything at this stage in the game. Even her comeback has seemed cursed. They’ve been trying to book her vs Hannah Goldy for months now. It fell apart a couple of times and got rescheduled for this card...and now Goldy’s out. It’s almost like something is trying to tell Penne that this MMA lark just isn’t meant to be for her. In steps Godinez. A UFC newcomer out of Canada, 27 years old with a 5-0 record. She’s fought for Combate Americas, was Strawweight champ for a promotion called BTC and she just became the LFA Strawweight champ in her last fight in October. It was meant to be a wild scrap as well. Check the before and after pictures of her and her opponent...

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Not the worst start to a career and from bits I’ve read there are high expectations for her as she enters the UFC’s 115 division. Another bad break for Penne by the looks of it. She probably had a decent chance against Goldy but now, through Goldy pulling out, she’s being thrown in with a prospect who’s a decade younger and seems more than up for a blood and guts war. I doubt Penne fancies that kind of fight at this stage. Wasn’t interested when it was Goldy but I’m going to have to give Godinez a gander now.

 

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Gerald Meerschaert vs Bartosz Fabinski. He’s back. Our Gerald begins his quest to return to winning ways. That belt will be his soon. He’s coming off that horrible 17 seconds against Khamzat Chimaev back in September, he also got stopped by Ian Heinisch just before that. He’s lost 5 of his last 7 overall. Poor Gerald. The old bloodhound is in serious need of a W here. I believe. On a serious note, as well as being a really likeable bloke and an all around jam-up guy (Bret Hart©), he’s got the skills to where I genuinely think he should be doing better than his recent record shows. I think I had him beating Eryk Anders and he took Kevin Holland to a split decision too. Can’t say I really recall that fight but right away that’s 2 losses where it might be arguable he got a raw deal. Hopefully he can get back in the win column here. Fabinski is 34 going on 65. Honestly, I want to see the birth certificate. The fucker’s younger than me but looks like he went to school in black and white. He’s 15-4 with some decent wins over Darren Stewart and Emil Meek. Got armbarred in 2 minutes last time out though. Team Meerschaert 4 Life!

 

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Austin Hubbard vs Dakota Bush. Another late change. Was supposed to be Hubbard vs Natan Levy and after doing a bit of digging I was quite looking forward to Levy’s Octagon debut. It’ll have to wait though. As for Hubbard, he’s alright, nothing special. He’s 12-5 and tends to lose whenever they give him anyone who’s really got something about them. Tough, durable guy but he just seems to have fallen into that role as the guy they feed to prospects to give them rounds/experience. Enter Dakota ‘Hairy’ Bush. And no that’s not me trying to be funny. Nickname ‘Hairy’, surname Bush. Somehow I can’t see Buffer shouting that one on ESPN. Anyway, he’s 26 years old with a record of 8-2 and 6 finishes. He’s coming off a couple of back-to-back quick knockout wins in the LFA promotion.

 

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Tony Gravely vs Anthony Birchak. Dunno. Haven’t seen a whole lot of either guy. Gravely is 29 years old, 20-6 with 11 inside the distance. Got subbed by Brett Johns in his UFC debut but has won one since. Nothing jumps out in the memory about him, although I must’ve seen that Johns fight. Birchak’s 34 years old with a 15-7 record and got done in a round by Gustavo Lopez in November.

 

Decent. Main event’s a banger and I’d be surprised if Klose vs Stephens isn’t just start to finish violence. Plus we’ve got Gez back. It’ll do nicely to pass a week before that stacked 261 card. 

Edited by wandshogun09
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Another cracking write up, Wand.

I still have the episode on my Sky box of their season when of TUF where Juan Espino floored Maurice Greene and then tapped him out. Greene was a proper dick with him, and a few other people, in the house. I think it's the semi final. It was a really great moment. 

I feel no shame for keeping it in my planner for three years. 

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The stakes for the main event are pretty high now. The middleweight division has no clear cut contender. Till's hurt, Vetorri kinda blew it, Brunson is on the outside. If either man here wins big, I think they'll be next. Mental thinking about Gastelum but he has the first Adesanya fight to dine out on when considering a rematch. Big fight.

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Given the state of the MW title scene, and the way they do things recently, I'm surprised they haven't proposed an Adesanya/Usman superfight. Clash of the Diasporic Nigerians.

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