UFC 234 Main Event preview
In a sport as fresh as Mixed Martial Arts, there’s plenty of room for growth throughout the entire world.
We’ve gotten used to seeing the United States and Brazil dominate in the UFC for many years. However, in recent times the Southern Hemisphere has emerged as a breeding ground for fighting talent. Amongst all the competitors we’re seeing, including the likes of Tai Tuivasa, Dan Hooker and Alexander Volkanovski, there’s one man who leads the pack, and his name is Robert Whittaker.
Known as ‘The Reaper’, or as fans like to call him ‘Bobby Knuckles’, the New Zealand born Australian has set the world alight since making the jump up from welterweight to middleweight. Without the hassle of draining an extra fifteen pounds off his body, Whittaker has looked almost unstoppable. An illustrious run in the division started off with wins over Clint Hester, Brad Tavares, Uriah Hall and Rafael Natal, but it was against Derek Brunson in Melbourne where he would really announce himself to the world.
In front of a raucous crowd, Whittaker survived an early onslaught from Brunson who’d come out in fiery fashion, to ultimately win via knock out in an extraordinary one round fight. This performance announced Whittaker as a genuine threat to the elite fighters in the division. He would then be matched up against the heavily avoided Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizard Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza.
Whittaker found himself in a dangerous predicament on the floor with Jacare, but he remained composed and finished the Brazilian in the second round. This would get him a long-awaited shot at the interim world title against a Free Style Wrestling Olympic silver medallist and a striking physical specimen of a man in Yoel Romero.
After exhibiting some excellent takedown defence and fight IQ, the Aussie would tire Romero out and win an impressive decision despite injuring his knee in the first round. After world champion George St Pierre vacated his title, Whittaker was promoted to full champion. In his first defence, he was met once again with the daunting challenge of Romero.
After winning the first two rounds convincingly, it seemed the champion was in control until he was dropped heavily by the explosive Cuban in the third round. Miraculously he made it to the end of the round and even landed some impressive shots himself. After winning the fourth, the belt holder only needed to see out one more round. After taking several huge shots off Romero it looked all but over, but Whittaker exhibited his incredible heart and resilience to make it to the final bell and retain his title on the judges’ cards.
In the opposite corner to the hometown champion will be another former welterweight making his first attempt at a world title belt, the big punching Kelvin Gastelum. The journey so far for the American has certainly been a rollercoaster ride. After becoming the youngest ever Ultimate fighter winner at just twenty-one years of age, Gastelum would take his winning record into double figures. It was then he met Tyron Woodley and would miss weight for the second time in his career by a staggering ten pounds.
After losing the fight via split decision, UFC president Dana White would demand that Gastelum moved up to middleweight. However, despite winning his middleweight debut, he would move back down to welterweight and lose to Neil Magny as well as missing weight for the third time in a fight that never took place against Donald Cerrone. White officially refused to let Gastelum fight at welterweight again.
In his permanent move up to middleweight, the American would really come into his own. After defeating Johny Hendricks and Tim Kennedy back to back he would travel to Brazil to compete against former champion Vitor Belfort. Despite an explosive victory, Gastelum would once again be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons after failing a drugs test for marijuana.
Despite this, he headlined in New York against local hero Chris Weidman and despite dropping him heavily, he would ultimately lose the bout via submission. However, it was then his career would take a turn for the better. Gastelum was scheduled to fight one of the greats in Anderson Silva in Shanghai but the Brazilian failed a drugs test. Just three weeks after losing his world title Michael Bisping would step up on short notice to save the card.
Gastelum defeated the all-time great in just a round with a massive left hook. Shortly after he would beat Jacare via decision and have officially earned a world title shot.
It’s all to play for in Melbourne. Will the Australian public go home celebrating after their man retains his strap or will the ever explosive Gastelum stick a spanner in the works?