Man, oh man, Robert Whittaker is really good at MMA.
I wrote about his strange situation before this fight, how Israel Adesanya’s unexpected rise to prominence interrupted what should have been an extended and dominating title reign. Even after losing his belt, Whittaker has continued to pick top-tier contenders, the men Adesanya wanted in front of him to defend his crown.
Not only did that continue last night against Kelvin Gastelum, but Whittaker hosted an absolute masterclass. Gastelum is famous for its speed and heavy hand. Even when he loses fights they tend to be pretty close and he usually takes his man down at least once.
It was not the case last night.
Whittaker was ahead of Gastelum from the first trade, and that never changed. Over the course of 25 minutes, Whittaker displayed a lot of MMA fine art. Coming from the heinous mess that was Triller Fight Club, he felt equivalent to a dying man stumbling through the desert and falling into an oasis.
Whittaker’s defense has never looked better. Shortly or not in advance, Whittaker’s previous preparation for Gastelum was on display. His right hand remained glued to his chin as he withdrew from exchanges, always anticipating Gastelum’s infamous left hand. Instead of blocking the blow, however, Whittaker frequently interrupted it, both with soles of his right hand and with interception punches.
Then there was wrestling. A karate-boxer like Whittaker shouldn’t be able to throw a talented fighter like Gastelum out of the body lock with ease (TWICE), nor should he hit a single. Hell, he even denied Gastelum his excellent Gramby roll, raking his back in the final moments of the fight!
Whittaker outmaneuvered his enemy on every level.
In truth, we shouldn’t have gotten to see much of Whittaker’s greatness. Instead, the right high kick that landed in the first few minutes should they have finished the fight. If not that blow, several of Whittaker’s control hooks were blows that destroyed the chin. Despite his status as a smaller man at middleweight, Gastelum’s chin is more solid than the foundations of most buildings.
Whittaker convinced him to throw brutally hard punches, hooks, uppercuts and kicks, landing damaging punches on all levels of Gastelum. Like a human refrigerator, Gastelum walked straight through them and kept firing; both men deserve credit here for different reasons.
Regardless of Gastelum’s immunity to pain and damage, this it was the performance that demanded attention and that Whittaker should have been waiting for. Even without the knockout, it was impressive. There is no other option but to give Whittaker a rematch with Adesanya. The Australian has clearly improved. He has become more patient, but equally dangerous, at a distance. His offensive takedowns have become a more considerable threat, and given how unfortunate Adesanya looked back at Jan Blachowicz, that may be a viable path to victory.
He won’t be a favorite, but Whittaker has earned his chance with another championship-level performance.
Completely UFC Vegas 24: “Whittaker vs. Gastelum Results ”and play by play, click HERE!