Robert Whittaker moved to middleweight in 2014. Since then the 30-year-old has gone 11-1. The only man to beat him during that stretch was Israel Adesanya. On Saturday, Whittaker defeated Kelvin Gastelum via unanimous decision in the main event of UFC Vegas 24 and that win, his third since losing his middleweight crown to Adesanya, could get Whittaker a rematch with the reigning champ. Adesanya suffered the first loss of his career in March when he moved up to light heavyweight to challenge 205-pound champion Jan Blachowicz.
Whittaker changed his approach to not just fighting, but also to his life after the Adesanya loss. Suffering from burnout, Whittaker dropped out of a matchup with Jared Cannonier that was scheduled for UFC 248. Since he has reset his priorities and approach to his career, Whittaker is 3-0 with unanimous decision wins over Darren Till, Cannonier and now Gastelum.
With most of the attention from this fight going to Whittaker, Gastelum’s performance should not be ignored. Yes, he lost every round on the scorecards, but that doesn’t mean Gastelum wasn’t in the fight. He was a game opponent and bloodied Whittaker. Gastelum let the former champion know he was in a fight when the two left the octagon.
Read on for the winners and losers from UFC Vegas 24.
Robert Whittaker: Robert Whittaker was interested in a rematch with Israel Adesanya after his October win over Jared Cannonier, but UFC president Dana White dismissed Whittaker’s desire in favor of Adesanya moving up to light heavyweight to challenge Jan Blachowicz for that title. Adesanya fell short. I think the time is right to run that fight back.
Whittaker defeated Darren Till 48-47 x 3 in July. The scores of the Cannonier fight were 29-28 x 3. At UFC Vegas 24, Whittaker scored a clean sweep on the cards, winning all five rounds over Gastelum and taking home “Fight of the Night” honors. It was the first bonus for Whittaker since he racked up five bonuses in four fights between November 2016 and June 2018.
Whittaker looked fantastic on his way to the win over Gastelum. He landed 52 percent of his significant strikes and held Gastelum to a significant strike landing rate of just 29 percent. Whittaker added four takedowns to his offense and 4:19 in control time.
With his three-fight winning streak, Whittaker has earned the opportunity to face Adesanya a second time.
Kelvin Gastelum: Yes, Kelvin Gastelum lost to Robert Whittaker. Yes, Whittaker shut him out on the scorecards. Yes, Gastelum’s significant strike landing percentage was low. However, Gastelum let Whittaker know he was in a fight on Saturday night. Whittaker gave Gastelum all he had, but Gastelum never backed down. Gastelum made Whittaker earn the win.
Gastelum has struggled in his past five outings, going 1-4, but the bouts that bookend that run, the scraps with Adesanya and Whittaker have each earned “Fight of the Night” bonus awards. The 29-year-old might not win UFC gold, but he is a tough out and a tough test for the top half of the UFC’s middleweight division, and he tends to fight better when he faces top-level competition. It’s hard to knock the effort Gastelum gave at UFC Vegas 24.
Andrei Arlovski: The 42-year-old former UFC champ got back in the win column on Saturday with a decision victory over Chase Sherman. It wasn’t the prettiest fight of the night, but Arlovski won. What made the difference in this fight were the low kicks of the veteran fighter. Arlovski left Sherman unable to put much weight on his leg during the second and third rounds. After the win, Arlovski said he wants to keep fighting for a few more years. With a 4-2 record since mid-2019, Arlovski could get his wish.
Jacob Malkoun: Note to the UFC middleweight division, don’t let Jacob Malkoun back you into the cage and close distance on you. Malkoun used his wrestling and strength to completely neutralize the striking of Abdul Razak Alhassan to get the unanimous decision win. This was an incredible comeback for Malkoun, who lost his UFC debut in October when Phil Hawes knocked him out in 18 seconds. Malkoun landed eight takedowns in this scrap and ran up 11:41 of control time while holding his foe to 21 significant strikes landed.
Tracy Cortez: After two wins at bantamweight, Tracy Cortez dropped back to flyweight for her UFC Vegas 24 matchup opposite Justine Kish. She fell short of that goal and weighed in at 126.5 pounds, which bumped this one to a catchweight.
Cortez was better on the ground by a large margin, and even though Kish was the better striker, Cortez wasn’t afraid to tangle with her on the feet. Cortez impressed with her ground striking and her ability to score points with those strikes. The win moved her to 9-1, but she needs to make sure she makes weight next time out.
Luis Pena vs. Alexander Munoz: This was enjoyable, and it was close. Alexander Munoz navigated a height and reach disadvantage and landed some good strikes during the first two rounds. Pena, who had not fought since a June 2020 loss to Khama Worthy, said after the bout that it took him some time to get his feet under him after such a long time away from the cage. That seemed to check out. Pena did well in the third stanza, and it seemed as if that was the round that gave him the split-decision win.
Jessica Penne: Jessica Penne, a former Invicta FC atomweight champ and ex-UFC strawweight title challenger, returned to the cage for the first time in nearly four years when she met Lupita Godinez. The 38-year-old was on a three-fight losing skid. She won her first fight since 2014 with a split decision victory.
Penne’s grappling and Godinez’s lack of fight IQ won her the fight. This win should lift an enormous weight from the shoulders of the veteran fighter. It’ll be interesting to see where Penne goes next.
Gerald Meerschaert: In the early going of his matchup opposite Bartosz Fabinski, the UFC commentators noted Meerschaert had never had as much time to prepare for a fight in his career. That time was well spent as Meerschaert caught Fabinski with a guillotine choke and sent him into unconsciousness for the win.
The win was Meerschaert’s sixth submission win as a UFC middleweight, which broke a five-way tie for most submissions in the history of the UFC’s 185-pound division. With the win, the 33-year-old stands alone at the top of that stat.
This win was also a nice bounce back for Meerschaert, who was on a two-fight losing skid. He had first-round knockout losses to Khamzat Chimaev and Ian Heinisch in those scraps.
Austin Hubbard: Austin Hubbard didn’t have the time to watch film on his opponent, Dakota Bush, but that didn’t seem to give him any nerves. Hubbard was patient in the early going of the lightweight bout, and that paid dividends for him. In the first half of the first round, Hubbard dealt with the pressure of Bush and used that time to decipher the movement and timing of his foe. Once he figured things out, Hubbard took control of the bout with his wrestling. Overall, this was a decent performance from Hubbard, who spent his camp training for another opponent.
Tony Gravely vs. Anthony Birchak: I don’t know if Tony Gravely and Anthony Birchak got some kind of pep talk before the opening fight of the night, but if they did, it paid off in a big way. Birchak started out aggressively, but once Gravely got his feet under him he used his wrestling and striking to put Birchak in trouble more than once in the first stanza. Somehow Birchak mounted some offense of his own and threatened with a choke.
Gravely recharged between the first and second round and ended the fight with his hands early in the second stanza. The bantamweight scrap was one hell of an opening contest.
Chase Sherman: Chase Sherman’s first run with the UFC ended in 2018. The promotion released him after he went 2-5. A 3-0 run with Island Fight brought Sherman back into the fold. He added a fourth consecutive win to his record with a TKO win over Ike Villanueva in May 2020. That winning streak ended on Saturday when Andrei Arlovski used leg kicks to score a win over Sherman. At 31, Sherman
Abdul Razak Alhassan: Abdul Razak Alhassan dropped his third straight fight when Jacob Malkoun used his wrestling skills to neutralize the striking of Alhassan. Alhassan also missed weight in two of those three setbacks.
Justine Kish: Justine Kish started quickly. She tried to use her striking to make her opponent uncomfortable, but that did not work out well for her as Tracey Cortez shut things down with her wrestling skill.
Lupita Godinez: Lupita Godinez displayed strength, power and low fight IQ. Godinez messed up the nose of her opponent, Jessica Penne, and threw her around the cage with ease. What she didn’t do was use her strength and power effectively, and that cost her the fight. Godinez is inexperienced, and it showed in this matchup. She has athletic tools to work with, now it’s time to see if she can put those tools to good use.
Bartosz Fabinski: Bartosz Fabinski did a good job getting the fight inn close in the opening seconds of the first round, but that didn’t prevent Gerald Meerschaert from finding an opening to sink a guillotine choke and choking Fabinski unconscious. The loss dropped Fabinski to 1-3 in his past four outings. All three losses came via first-round submission.
Dakota Bush: Dakota Bush made his UFC debut on short notice and he looked pretty good for the first half of the opening round. He was aggressive with his striking and landed some heavy low kicks in the early going, but he slowed pretty quickly and he did not do great against the wrestling of his opponent, Austin Hubbard. With that said, I’m interested to see what Bush can do with a full camp and without the UFC jitters.
Zarah Fairn: We can file this one under, “How do you even do that?” The UFC bumped the bout between Zarah Fairn and Josaine Nunes from bantamweight to a catchweight of 139 pounds before the weigh-in. That was fine, and I actually wish this would happen more often if one fighter is heavy and the fighter who okayed the stipulation gets some extra cash for agreeing to the change. However, Fairn weighed in not just over 139, but over the featherweight limit of 146. She checked in at 147 pounds. Nunes weighed in at 136. The UFC scratched the fight.
Fans: Say what you want about Jeremy Stephens and his record, the man always comes to fight. That’s probably why the UFC booked Stephens and Drakkar Klose in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 24, despite Stevens going winless since 2018. With that, fans expecting to see Stephens and Klose throw down had to be disappointed when they tuned into the event and found out the UFC waved off the fight because of an injury to Klose.
Jeremy Stephens: Disappointment turned to disgust when Klose revealed he was out of the fight with Stephens because Stephens injured him when he shoved Klose during the staredown. This a less than ideal situation for the UFC, Klose and Stephens. The UFC said it would rebook the fight ASAP, but with a concussion and a sprain of his neck, it might be some time before Klose is able to return to action.
Drakkar Klose’s diagnosis, per his team:— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) April 18, 2021
“Brain concussion; sprain of cervical neck.” pic.twitter.com/ynIFXk2LRc
Alexander Romanov vs. Juan Espino: Of these two heavyweights, Juan Espino was the better technical fighter. However, Alexander Romanov had the size and power advantage and that was the equalizer in this matchup. Had the groin shot not ended things early in the third stanza, it’s hard to know how this one would have ended, but end it did and Romanov got the nod.