In a fight that was previously scheduled two years ago, old foes Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum finally lock horns to decide the next challenger to the Middleweight title.
UFC on ESPN 22: Whittaker vs Gastelum Predictions & Results
Robert Whittaker (22-5) vs Kelvin Gastelum (17-6)
It is strange to see online, but many Israel Adesanya fans believe that Whittaker is still undeserving of a crack at winning his title back. Sure, Bobby may have been knocked out pretty comprehensively by the current champion, but since then Whittaker has overcome top contenders in Darren Till and Jared Cannonier. While it is true that Whittaker’s once impeccable durability seems to have declined slightly after his two wars with Yoel Romero, the former champion remains one of the most complete mixed martial artists on the roster and could offer a different look in a rematch with Adesanya. As a fighter capable of adhering to new game plans every time he steps into the octagon, Whittaker has excelled by identifying weaknesses in opponents and exploiting them.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle that Whittaker was unable to overcome against Adesanya, was being the loser in the jabbing war. Usually a staple of his kit, Whittaker relies on his jab early to ensure a comfortable distance and necessary time to make a read of his opposite corner. As it is fired from the hip, many opponents are caught unaware, but Adesanya’s reach frustrated Whittaker all night. While the Aussie carries a huge amount of power in his right hand, it has been used as a single shot rather than incorporated into combinations recently. Understandable when you consider Whittaker didn’t want to linger in the pocket against the ridiculous knockout power of Jared Cannonier, but even against Till, Whittaker settled into a technical affair. What makes Robert Whittaker such a threat at Middleweight, however, is his explosive bursts and entries from unorthodox angles. Almost leaping into offence, Whittaker opens up with flurries after tenderising his opponent with jabs. Mixing in a healthy dose of head kicks, and occasionally mixing it up with a takedown attempt, Whittaker forces opponents to stay respectful of his power and eventually lulls them into fighting to his pace.
Big fridge man, Kelvin Gastelum, is thankfully no longer a meme in the UFC. After a long run of killing old veterans (Michael Bisping, Tim Kennedy, Johnny Hendricks), Gastelum engaged in one of the greatest MMA fights of all time against Israel Adesanya. Despite his defeat, Gastelum garnered huge support, so it was surprising to see the Californian fall to Darren Till and Jack Hermansson in successive fights. Sure, both guys are top Middleweight contenders, but it was Gastelum’s performances that left much to be desired. At 5’9″ and boasting a flabby midriff, Gastelum was peppered by Till from range all night. Gastelum’s lightning fast hand speed remained hidden all fight as Till relied on straight shots and clinched up immediately when Gastelum closed the distance. Worse yet, Gastelum succumbed to a first-round heel hook against Hermansson after rolling the incorrect way to escape. Such a basic mistake forced many on the remaining Gastelum hype train to hop off, so it was a great relief that Gastelum returns to his wrestling roots and decisively decision Ian Heinisch. An iron chin, crisp boxing and sweltering grappling are attributes that make Gastelum great and keep him at 185lbs despite his physical limitations.
Predicted Result: Whittaker Decision
Bobby Knuckles’ famous durability has been looking somewhat suspect in the past few fights. Till was able to drop Whittaker (albeit with a fabulous elbow) and Cannonier had the former champion flailing in the final round. While Gastelum’s crisp boxing has looked a far cry since his duel with Israel Adesanya, the tubby 5’9″er showed the occasional flashes of his powerful one-two that helped end the careers of several UFC veterans. Gastelum showcased his grappling/wrestling last time out against Ian Heinisch, a tool of his game that seemed non-existent in his previous three fights. Whittaker has ironed out his TDD issues that plagued him at Welterweight, however, and his far larger physical advantage will only serve to help him keeping the fight standing. Whittaker’s unorthodox angles, low jabs from the hip, and explosive bursts that incorporate head kicks should all be enough to keep Gastelum respectful on the back-foot for long enough to secure each round. Both men have proven Hall of Fame chins/recovery in their careers, and it is likely that the two may taste the canvas. As much as I love Whittaker, he has looked a step off the pace recently – a big performance is required if he is to force Dana’s hand into offering him a title shot.
Result: Whittaker def. Gastelum // Decision (unanimous – 50-45, 50-45, 50-45)
Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️
Drakkar Klose (11-2-1) vs Jeremy Stephens (28-18)
This fight is gonna be hit with a hard no from me dawg. Neither man is the most exciting to watch in the octagon. Klose’s only finish with the organisation comes from his last fight where he was starched in a sloppy affair with Beneil Dariush. But, but Pintsized! Jeremy Stephens has highlight-reel stoppages over Doo Ho Choi and Josh Emmett. Yep, over a thirty-two fight stint in the UFC, Stephens has naturally accumulated the odd stoppage victory. Sadly, Stephens is currently on a four-loss streak (not including a no-contest with Yair Rodriguez, who damn near scraped his eye ball clean out the socket), and has looked never looked capable of keeping pace with the top contenders.
It has almost been a year since Drakkar Klose returns to the Octagon after his back and forth affair with Beneil Dariush. Although unfortunately ending in a crushing defeat, Klose still showed a rarely seen source of power that almost switched off the lights of Dariush. Klose’s ability to stink out an octagon is common, however. He is capable of utilising his size to bully opponents against the cage, but there are few aesthetically redeeming qualities to his dirty boxing and will likely be the cause of his departure from the organisation.
Jeremy Stephens is a very old thirty-four-year-old. With nearly fifty fights under his belt, Stephens has been a fantastic gatekeeper at Featherweight for many years now. A bad weight miss last time out has forced the hardest hitting 145’er to move up to Lightweight, but that should prove a shrewd move for a man cutting vast amounts of weight to hit the Featherweight limit. Stephen’s has proven before that he can fight behind a more calculated series of straight shots and set up his powerful overhands, but he is too easily baited into a heavy-handed brawling mess.
Predicted Result: Klose Decision
If not for the age, nearly fifty fights worth of miles on Stephen’s body, and a recent move up to Lightweight due to weight cutting issues, I would favour the hardest hitting 145’er in this match-up. Drakkar Klose is utter dross to have to watch, but he is a large Lightweight who knows how to utilise every pound of weight to pressure opponents into the cage and work in his dirty boxing. It isn’t pretty to watch and has little effect on opponents, but Klose is disciplined in securing rounds. Stephens’ won’t be at a huge physical disadvantage, but he has routinely shown an awful mental. Clearly capable of fighting to a calculated game plan, using his jab to set up his powerful overhands, Stephens is too easily baited these days into reducing to a heavy-handed brawling mess.
Result: 🚫 FIGHT CANCELLED (Stephens injured Klose at the weigh-ins) 🚫
Andrei Arlovski (30-20) vs Chase Sherman (15-6)
Every week it feels like I have to write up a piece of Arlovski. The long-time Heavyweight gatekeeper is the perfect test for prospects aiming to shoot up the rankings. To beat Arlovski it is necessary to break his chin, overwhelm him with volume, or somehow work him to the mat. Arlovski’s chin has recently seen a renaissance with only Jairzinho Rozenstruik managing to stop the veteran in the past four years, and his TDD is utterly stellar compared to many of the 265’ers. While Arlovski isn’t going to be chasing stoppage victories any time soon, he is defensively compact on the feet and when he does throw – often hits the mark.
After serving a nine-month suspension for anastrozole, Chase Sherman is aiming to restart his second crack in the UFC. After a vicious, thoroughly dominating stoppage victory over Ike Villanueva, Sherman’s time in Bare Knuckle Boxing seemed to have tightened his striking. Patiently picking apart Villanueva, Sherman effectively cut off the ring and left his opponent in panic mode when he realised he had no space to escape.
Predicted Result: Sherman Decision
Arlovski is an excellent Heavyweight gatekeeper, but his lack of volume often leaves him on the wrong end of decisions. Sure, Arlovski has to keep defensively compact otherwise we would return to the era where a strong gust of wind could knock out the former elite Heavyweight. Sherman is a heavy-handed opponent, still very raw and coming off of a nine-month suspension for anastrozole. Arlovski will make this an ugly, awkward stand-up affair, but Sherman’s volume (and full training camp compared to Arlovski’s one week notice) will win the scorecards.
Result: Arlovski def. Sherman // Decision (unanimous – 29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Winner ❌ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️
Abdul Razak Alhassan (10-3) vs Jacob Malkoun (4-1)
Poor old Alhassan. He seems to be the forgotten man after being nuked into a hospital bed by Khaos Williams. After such a violently concussive knockout, it is often difficult to predict what fighter will emerge from the ashes. With a history of bad weight cuts, Alhassan is also moving up to Middleweight where it is anyone’s guess whether his power will travel with him.
Despite Malkoun’s eighteen-second knockout loss to Phil Hawes, I still believe the inexperienced counter-puncher has a point to prove in the UFC. Malkoun utilises his jab wonderfully, cuts opponents down with low calf kicks and can sit down into combinations. Unfortunately, the UFC would prefer to add a knockout Alhassan’s record and carry on with that hype train.
Predicted Result: Alhassan TKO Round 1
Although Malkoun may have been destroyed in eighteen seconds by Phil Hawes, I still believe that he is a decent striking prospect. In the regionals, Malkoun showcased a wonderful jab, low kicks and measured combinations, but it seems that Malkoun lacks the elite physicality to keep pace with the big boys. Alhassan is moving up in weight after several bad weight cuts, and a terrifying first-round stoppage loss to Khaos Williams, so it is anyone’s guess to as what version of Alhassan will enter the octagon. I’m choosing pain.
Result: Malkoun def. Alhassan // Decision (unanimous – 30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Luis Pena (8-3) vs Alex Munoz (6-1)
Violent Bob Ross is probably never going to be the fighter that many had hoped he would blossom into during his Ultimate Fighter days. It is such a shame, as his 6’3″ frame and aesthetic appearance make him an easy sell for the UFC, but his ring generalship is utterly lacking. Against Khama Worthy, a limited power puncher, Pena was bullied out of the centre of the octagon and failed to force Worthy into an uncomfortable pace. Worse yet, he was dominated on the mat, an area in which he prides himself.
Team Alpha Male product, Alex Munoz, is a takedown machine but as shown against Nasrat Haqparast – he hasn’t got much else in the locker. Still, this is the perfect style to bully Pena and grind out a dominating three-round performance. Munoz’s solid chin and never-ending gas tank further suggest he will overwhelm the flailing gas tank of Pena.
Predicted Result: Munoz Decision
It is a shame that Violent Bob Ross will never be the fighter that everyone expected to blossom from the Ultimate Fighter series. Despite his freak 6’3″ frame at Lightweight, Pena has failed to mature in his striking and seems to have regressed on the ground. Munoz is a takedown machine, and while there isn’t much danger on the feet, his never-ending gas tank and solid chin should be enough to grind out a three-round performance.
Result: Pena def. Munoz // Decision (split – 28-29, 29-28, 30-27)
Winner ❌ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️
Women’s Flyweight (125)
Tracy Cortez (8-1) vs Justine Kish (7-3)
After a spell at Bantamweight, Cortez is moving down to Flyweight in hopes that her extra size will benefit her wrestling base. Although Flyweight is the more stacked division, it is also the weight class where bigger money fights can be found. Cortez’s boxing is laughably limited, but Flyweight isn’t a division effectively devoid of lights-out power.
Kish is a decent striker who utilises swarming volume to stifle opponents and remain on the front foot. Cortez won’t be the fighter to expose the lack of striking defence, but she will have ample opportunity to shoot for the hips and legs.
Predicted Result: Cortez Decision
After a spell at Bantamweight, Cortez is moving down to Flyweight in hopes that her extra size will benefit her wrestling base. Cortez’s boxing is laughably limited, but Flyweight isn’t a division effectively devoid of lights-out power. Kish is a decent striker who utilises swarming volume to stifle opponents, but her TDD is God awful, and Cortez represents the strongest wrestler she has faced.
Result: Cortez def. Kish // Decision (split – 28-29, 29-28, 30-27)
Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️
Alexander Romanov (13-0) vs Juan Espino (10-1)
What a wonderful meme fight between two grappling gurus in a division of sloppy Heavyweight brawlers. Romanov is the thickest of boys, with the Moldovan looking solely for the takedown from the opening bell and content to overpower his opponent from top position. Romanov does leave ample opportunity for opponents to escape, but he has a canny knack for immediately rag-dolling them once again.
Forty-year-old Spaniard, Juan Espino, is coming off an excellent submission victory over Jeff Hughes, but time is ticking for the veteran. Espino appears to carry crazy old man strength and was able to hang with the unorthodox heavy hands of Hughes before securing a rare scarf hold victory.
Predicted Result: Romanov TKO Round 3
What a meme fight between two grappling gurus in a sloppy brawling division. Romanov is a takedown machine with relentless ground and pound, while Espino holds himself better on the feet with a preference for submissions. Espino at forty years old leaves question marks over his longevity, but he so far seems capable of keeping pace at Heavyweight. Romanov’s size, youth and gas tank should be enough, though.
Result: Romanov def. Espino // Technical Decision (split – 28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Women’s Strawweight (115)
Jessica Penne (12-5) vs Lupita Godinez (5-0)
On a three-fight slide, four-year hiatus, and with absolutely no fan-fare behind her? Penne used to be a decent grappler, but Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s clinic over her has left Penne a broken fighter. Thirty-eight and with no noticeable changes, Penne could be here just for the payday.
LFA product, Lupita Godinez, is a powerful striker with huge amounts of flaws. There is a lot of athletic potential in Godinez, but there is a long list of issues that need to be ironed out first.
Predicted Result: Godinez Decision
On a three-fight slide, four-year hiatus, and with absolutely no fan-fare behind her? Penne used to be a decent grappler, but Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s clinic over her has left Penne a broken fighter. LFA Strawweight champion, Lupita Godinez, is a powerful striker with huge amounts of flaws but should be far too athletically gifted to allow the thirty-eight year old to get herself back in the win column.
Result: Penne def. Godinez // Decision (split – 28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Winner ❌ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️
Gerald Meerschaert (31-14) vs Bartosz Fabinski (15-4)
It wasn’t long ago that many had Meerschaert pipped to expose Khamzat Chimaev on the mat. Seventeen seconds later and a brutal right cross knockout loss, Meerschaert was quickly left behind by the casuals. The Middleweight gatekeeper is still a powerful force on the mat, however, and is happy to search for submissions off of his back.
I don’t have a lot of love for Fabinski’s grinding grappling which aims to secure control time over finishes. Caught out by an Andre Muniz armbar last time out, Fabinski’s lame style eventually caught up with him, but it is still a tried and tested tactic to regularly win in MMA.
Predicted Result: Fabinski Decision
On occasions where you have two grapplers pitted against each other, it usually descends into a sloppy war of attrition on the feet. Meerschaert, however, has shown he will happily pull guard in order to take the fight to the mat. Meerschaert is threatening off his back, but Fabinski is a master of control time and the boring Pole can grind out a suffocating decision victory.
Result: Meerschaert def. Fabinski // Technical Submission (guillotine choke) Round 1 2:00
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
UFC on ESPN 22
2021 MMA Season
Takeaway comments: Bobby Knuckles better have that title shot before the Italian meatball.
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