Hartitz’s UFC 234 Betting Guide: Can Robert Whittaker Retain his Title against Kelvin Gastelum?
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Robert Whittaker (red gloves).
- Robert Whittaker (-240) will face challenger Kevin Gastelum (+190) in his first middleweight title defense.
- This title bout between Whittaker and Gastelum pits two superior strikers against each other.
UFC 234 betting odds: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum
- Robert Whittaker -240
- Kelvin Gastelum +190
- Time: Approx. 11:30 p.m. ET
- Channel: PPV
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There will be plenty of action going down in the octagon this Saturday night at UFC 234 from the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia.
Undisputed middleweight champion Robert Whittaker will take on No. 4-ranked contender Kelvin Gastelum in the land down under.
Gastelum isn’t a stranger to taking fights in his opponent’s backyard. He’s fought Ronaldo Souza in Brazil, Chris Weidman in New York and Vitor Belfort in Brazil — and all since 2017. Gastelum’s split-decision victory over the former fighter at UFC 224 in May 2018 earned him this title shot.
We haven’t seen Whittaker in action since his five-round war with Yoel Romero at UFC 225 last June. ‘Bobby Knuckles’ has won eight consecutive fights since moving up to middleweight back in 2014.
Both fighters started their careers at welterweight before later moving up a weight class. They’re each smaller than your normal middleweight, but that hasn’t stopped either fighter from racking up finishes in their new division.
Let’s break down some of the matchup’s biggest questions and attempt to find some value with the odds.
How Can Robert Whittaker Win?
Each of Whittaker’s last four matchups have been against opponents that would rather take things to the mat. Yoel Romero was able to at least briefly takedown Whittaker, but nobody has been able to consistently control the 185-pound champion for very long.
Robert Whittaker takedown defense 👀 pic.twitter.com/rOaaaasv49
— Action Combat (@ActionFights) February 7, 2019
Gastelum won a state wrestling championship in high school, although Whittaker’s amateur achievements in freestyle wrestling, as well as his proven ability to stop any-and-every takedown, make it unlikely that this fight spends much time on the ground.
After all, neither fighter has attempted more than one takedown in a fight during their respective last five trips into the octagon.
A battle on the feet has historically favored Bobby Knuckles against everyone he’s faced in the division. Whittaker owns the highest striking rate among active middleweights (per Inside the Octagon) and has managed to out-land each and every opponent he’s faced at at 185 pounds.
Whittaker’s left hook and devastating head kick have finished many an opponent, but his relentless high-volume style and magnificent distance control also positions him well to pick up decision victories.
Whittaker’s 29 strikes in round five of his most-recent victory were due to Romero knocking down the champion early in the round before eventually controlling most of the remainder of the fight on the mat.
This is the largest concern with backing Whittaker: Will his chin be able to again hold up for 25 minutes against one of the division’s best knockout artists? The champion often utilizes a blitzing style of offense to land his shots, so a well-time counter could be deadly.
Overall, Whittaker has been knocked down against Romero (twice), Stephen Thompson and Colton Smith during his time in the UFC.
Whittaker appears to be the more-skilled fighter and has demonstrated some of the best distance control of anybody that’s ever competed in the Octagon. The champ’s ability to keep Gastelum outside of boxing range will be crucial to his chances of both out-landing and ultimately finishing the challenger.
How Can Kelvin Gastelum Win?
Gastelum has never been finished with strikes during his 19 professional MMA fights. Only current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (split decision), No. 11-ranked welterweight Neil Magny (split decision) and former middleweight champion Chris Weidman (arm-triangle choke) have managed to get their arm raised against the former Ultimate Fighter 17 winner.
A strong chin will be needed against the champion, but Gastelum has certainly made a habit of testing his opponent’s will during his time at middleweight. Overall, he’s recorded a ridiculous 9:1 UFC knockdown ratio and managed to put down every former world champion he’s faced.
Kelvin Gastelum knockdowns per fight at middleweight:
vs. Souza: 1 knockdown
vs. Bisping: 1
vs. Weidman: 1
vs. Belfort: 2
vs. Kennedy: 1
vs. Marquardt: 0 (corner stoppage win)
vs. Hall: 0 (split-decision win)
— Action Combat (@ActionFights) February 7, 2019
Gastelum doesn’t utilize as wide a variety of strikes as Whittaker, but his constant barrage of one-two combinations have been plenty effective thus far. It’s tough to call anyone in the division more dangerous than Romero, although Gastelum is more than capable of landing a fight-ending shot at any moment.
Part of what makes Saturday night’s main event so intriguing is that both competitors have largely dominated each of their opponents in the stand-up game at middleweight. Gastelum seems to be getting the benefit of the doubt when it comes to one-shot power, but Whittaker (48%) does have a higher KO/TKO finish percentage than the challenger (40%).
Gastelum has more than enough power to put away Whittaker if the champion’s chin is permanently compromised from his 10 rounds of war with Romero. Still, both fighters are proven warriors who aren’t put away easily, so controlling the center of the Octagon and maintaining volume will be crucial in declaring a winner in their inevitable stand-up battles.
Current and Past Odds
Whittaker finds himself favored a bit more than usual, while we’ve never seen Gastelum as this big of an underdog during his recent run. Gastelum has only closed as a similar underdog against Uriah Hall (+260) and Tyron Woodley (+190).
I’m expecting some fireworks in the cage Saturday night with two fighters who are expected to be more than happy to settle their differences on the feet. The early exchanges will be important to watch to see who can establish their game for the rest of the fight.
Gun to my head, I think Whittaker wins the fight — but there isn’t a gun to my head (phew). Instead, there’s seemingly too much value on a challenger that has already proven capable of defeating world champions at this weight class. I’ll take Gastelum at +160 or higher and hope to hear “and new” come Saturday night.
The Pick: Gastelum +190