New Zealand-born UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will defend his title in Melbourne against Kelvin Gastelum at the Rod Laver Arena.
The 27-year-old, who moved to Australia from South Auckland as an infant, will step into the Octagon as the headliner of UFC 234 on February 10, defending his title for the first time since being elevated to full champion after beating Yoel Romero for the interim title in July 2017. While the Sydneysider last fought in June, his rematch against Romero was a non-title bout after the Cuban missed weight.
Standing in Whittaker’s way will be the fourth-ranked middleweight Gastelum, who earned his shot at the title after impressive wins over UFC stalwarts Michael Bisping and Ronaldo Souza. The American has quickly risen up the ranks since moving up to middleweight from welterweight, a division in which many feel Gastelum is better suited. While Whittaker will go into the fight with a slight physical advantage, Gastelum has shown that he isn’t someone to overlook, and the Australian champion will be well aware he can’t afford to take anything for granted.
Whittaker will go into the fight as a 1.44 betting favourite, although many will feel Gastelum is a very tempting 2.34 underdog and someone well worth a punt, especially with the huge selection of betting bonuses available if you visit bonus.net.nz. Unbeaten in four years, though, Whittaker has established himself as one of the most dominant fighters in the middleweight division, and the UFC clearly see him as essential to their continued growth down under. Victory over Gastelum would put Whittaker in a strong position, potentially even opening up the possibility for a superfight against one of the organisation’s other champions.
The same can be said of exciting New Zealander Israel Adesanya, who will also feature on the UFC 234 card against former champion and pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva. Adesanya, a former kickboxing champion, has wasted little time in cementing his place as one of the most dynamic and stylish fighters in the UFC. A win for Whittaker and Adesanya could open the door for a huge trans-Tasman title fight between the two, and fans attending the Rod Laver Arena will have plenty to cheer about on an evening that could have huge implications on the rest of the middleweight division.
While a fight between Whittaker and Adesanya wouldn’t be as big a deal in North America – the home of the UFC – as it would be in Australia. Purely on a physical and skill level, it would be one of the most fascinating bouts the UFC could make right now. With Whittaker’s power and determination and Adesanya’s skill and unorthodox style, those who like playing fantasy matchmaker will already be licking their lips at the prospect of such an intriguing fight. Until then, though, both men have to get through their respective fights in Melbourne this February.
If they do, we can all begin to get excited.