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UFC Vegas 24: Whittaker vs. Gastelum - Fights to make

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All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest card in Las Vegas, NV.

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UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Gastelum
Kelvin Gastelum lost to Robert Whittaker at UFC Vegas 24, what is next for him?
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

One of the more slogging UFC cards in recent memory. A couple cool finishes early on unfortunately failed to set the tone for action, and every fight after the first three went to a decision. Fortunately, Robert Whittaker put a bow on the whole night with a stellar performance over Kelvin Gastelum.

So, is the UFC going to bypass Whittaker on the Adesanya rematch again? Is Tracy Cortez going to be flyweight’s next hot prospect? And how cautious should the UFC be of rushing Alexander Romanov?

To answer those questions – but not much else – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights.

ROBERT WHITTAKER

A consummate top contender’s performance from Whittaker, once again. Whether or not he can defeat Adesanya the second time around, he’s absolutely earned the right to another shot at UFC gold. Whittaker beat Gastelum from pillar to post in every single round of this bout. The kind of controlled domination that clearly sets him above the rest of the pack at 185. Sure, the UFC could put him in some kind of title contender runoff with Marvin Vettori, or do Vettori vs. Adesanya and match Whittaker up with Paulo Costa again—once Costa is recovered from his COVID symptoms. But that would all feel terribly unfair and unecessary. A fight between Vettori and Costa would carry a lot more interest right now, while Whittaker vs. Adesanya 2 absolutely feels like the necessary bout. Especially now that Adesanya has found his first MMA loss. Whittaker vs. Adesanya 2 is the must-make fight. Anything else seems like a distraction.

KELVIN GASTELUM

Even going 1-4 in his last 5 fights, Kelvin Gastelum still has options up around the top of the middleweight division. His game isn’t quite deep enough to make him a title contender, but he’s clearly capable of challenging top fighters with his fantastic durability, cardio, and power punching. Gastelum probably couldn’t swing a fight against Paulo Costa, but a bout against Jared Cannonier might have a bit of life in it. Still, with his recent record somewhat in shambles, it seems like there’s a much more perfect contest to book at just this moment—and that’s a fight against Kevin Holland. Much like Gastelum, Holland has struggled hard to find regular success against middleweight’s very best. And while he rarely seems to go to it as a first attack, Gastelum does have the kind of wrestling that could give Holland trouble. It’d be a test for the Kings MMA talent to see if he can press the right fight to win, and a test for ‘Big Mouth’ to see if he can control a bout against an opponent he can’t shut down easily standing. Holland vs. Gastelum is just the right next challenge for both men.

ANDREI ARLOVSKI

In some ways it feels kinda pointless to make any predictions as to who Arlovski might face next. He’s clearly found his place with the UFC as a guy who will take any fight at any time. Whether it’s in the top 10, or way down against guys just fighting to keep their place on the roster. When the UFC needs an action heavyweight fight on short notice, they call Arlovski up. And whether he wins or loses, he tends to deliver. He could fight Alexander Gustafsson if the Swede is still interested in being a heavyweight, or Alexander Romanov coming off his win earlier in the night. After that things get tougher, just because Arlovski’s fought so often that he’s just about seen everyone in the division at least once. I guess I’ll say Arlovski vs. Gustafsson, just for the pure novelty of it all. But the reality is, Arlovski will get whatever fight the UFC feels they need to make a couple weeks out from an upcoming fight card.

TRACY CORTEZ

The scorecards may not have agreed, but that felt like a very strong performance from Tracy Cortez. She traded with Kish well at range, hit takedowns when she needed them, and did well to control the fight on the mat with some great powerful GnP. She may have gotten sat down late, but she bounced back immediately to keep pressure on Kish. She’s definitely positioned herself as a prospect to watch, and as long as she can get her weight under control, should continue to have success at flyweight. Fights with the winner of Manon Fiorot vs. Maryna Moroz, Arine Lipski vs. Montana De La Rosa, or Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Polyana Botelho all seem like good next fight options. Or maybe even a fight with JJ Aldrich. Of all those, I think the winner of Lipski vs. De La Rosa seems like it’d be a solid chance for Cortez to stay busy and keep building her resume.

LUIS PENA

Not the cleanest win for Pena, but he started landing good shots in the second round and was clearly outgunning Munoz down the stretch and snagged a contested victory. That provides a badly needed bounce-back for the former Ultimate Fighter contestant, and should set him up for another mid-card action fighter in an ever-deep lightweight division. There are fights with Nasrat Haqparast, Thiago Moises, Vinc Pichel, or Lando Vannata. I think it’s time to give Pena a veteran test here. He’s had mixed success against relative newcomers and fighters well past their prime, how about someone who’s developed the patience and still has the physical tools to make it count. Given that Pichel recently out-grappled Jim Miller, he seems perfectly poised to be the guy. Pichel vs. Pena looks like a good next test for Pena to see if he can move from the lower edges of 155.

ALEXANDER ROMANOV

What a weird, weird fight. Seemed like Romanov lost the first and won the second and was losing the third when he got hit in the groin so hard that he couldn’t continue. That pushed the fight to the scorecards where Romanov actually managed to grab the split decision. An inauspicious victory, but the big man remains undefeated. That said, this fight may have been a sign that he’s not ready for any kind of huge step forward. The winner of Collier vs. Felipe wouldn’t be a bad idea, or maybe a fight against Sergey Spivac? But Jarjis Danho is fresh off a shocking win in his first bout in a half decade. Seems like a solid next step for Romanov. Another huge dude, this time with some KO power. If Danho can stuff the takedowns, he can probably give Romanov some real problems. Romanov vs. Danho seems like an appropriate way to go after this win.

GERALD MEERSCHAERT

Meerschaert has had his struggles lately, but he’s still a fighter that can be extremely dangerous to any opponent that lets him snatch up a neck or a limb. Fabinski came after him with a fairly predictable wrestle-boxing approach and Meeschaert was right there to grab the submission victory. That should keep him rock solid in the middle of the division as an action-fighting talent. There are a ton of fights, anywhere from the edges of the top 15 to relative newcomers that Meerschaert could face; from Zak Cummings down to Julian Marquez. But, even though Darren Stewart isn’t coming off a win, his bullish style of power striking into top control seems like it’s a great matchup for Meerschaert’s patient grappling game. So, how about Stewart vs. Meerschaert? See if ‘GM3’ can go on a run, or if Stewart can right the ship.

OTHER BOUTS: Chase Sherman vs. Boser/Latifi loser, Jacob Malkoun vs. Nassourdine Imavov, Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Abu Azaitar, Alexander Munoz vs. Aalon Cruz, Justin Kish vs. Molly McCann, Juan Espino vs. Collier/Felipe loser, Jessica Penne vs. Mizuki Inoue, Lupita Godinez vs. Cheyanne Buys, Bartosz Fabinski vs. Jack Marshman, Austin Hubbard vs. Jalin Turner, Dakota Bush vs. Teemu Packalen, Tony Gravely vs. Miles Johns, Anthony Birchak vs. Gaetano Pirrello