A matchup that fans have waited years for finally takes place on Saturday, and it wasn’t even scheduled to happen. The middleweight bout between No. 1 contender Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum headlines UFC Fight Night on April 17 from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The two were set to go after each other at UFC 234 back in 2019, but Whittaker pulled out the day of the fight because of a medical emergency. When given the chance to step in for the injured Paulo Costa for this match, Gastelum jumped at the chance, giving fans the fight they missed out on in Australia.
The bout between Whittaker (23-5) and Gastelum (17-6) highlights another full night of action inside the octagon. Five other bouts are featured on the main card, including a heavyweight tilt between UFC veteran Andrei Arlovski (30-20) and Chase Sherman (15-6). After three decades and more than 50 professional fights, Arlovski certainly knows his way around the ring and even held the heavyweight belt for a time. Sherman is a scrapper that isn’t afraid to get involved. He extended his winning streak and stoppage streak to four with a second-round finish of Ike Villanueva in May.
A flyweight matchup between Tracy Cortez (8-1) and Justine Kish (7-3) is the jewel of the prelims. A recent addition to the promotion, Cortez brings an eight-fight winning streak into her first bout at the 125-class. Kish has wins over Randa Markos, Nina Nunes and Ashley Yoder on her resume and will be a stiff test for Cortez on Saturday.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the bouts.
Robert Whittaker (-250) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (+210)
We finally get the fight two years in the making, and it should be a good one with plenty on the line. Whittaker is the No. 1 ranked contender and previously held the belt before losing to current champ Israel Adesanya in 2019. That’s the only blemish on Whittaker’s recent ledger with his previous 11 bouts ending in victory. Since losing the title, Whittaker responded with a pair of unanimous decisions over Darren Till and most recently Jared Cannonier.
A technically sound fighter, Whittaker has used his cerebral style to his advantage at times outsmarting opponents. He plays to his strengths which are conditioning and quickness. He can also go toe-to-toe when he hast to, but that’s gotten him in trouble in the past. When he gets in trouble Whittaker can take the fight to the mat and use his formidable wrestling ability to recover.
Gastelum is the No. 8 contender and has a chance to climb up the pecking order with a victory. He’s looking at a possible rematch with Adesanya after a close loss to the current champ in 2019. That setback was the first of three straight that also included a narrow decision to Darren Till and a submission to Jack Hermansson. This is an intriguing matchup with fighters that can take abuse and dish it out. Whittaker is the heavy favorite for a reason and his overall style is more polished. And there’s a good chance this one goes the distance since Gastelum took everything Adesanya delivered and stayed on his feet. Whittaker’s price isn’t too steep so I’ll back him for a unanimous victory.
Whittaker vs Gastelum Prediction
Our Pick: Robert Whittaker (unanimous decision)
Jeremy Stephens (-130) vs. Drakkar Klose (+100)
This lightweight bout figures to be a good one simply because both fighters desperately need a win and they’ll be hell-bent on getting one. Though he’s lost his last four fights, Stephens enters as a slight -130 favorite and is the No. 9 ranked featherweight contender. He is moving up a class to try for his first win since Feb. 2018. It hasn’t been for lack of effort. Stephens continues to fight top-level competition with his four losses to Jose Aldo, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Yair Rodriguez and Calvin Kattar. Stephens has 19 wins by knockout so we know he can throw punches with the best. He can also take a pounding making the job of Klose that much more difficult.
Klose enters with an impressive 11-2-1 professional record with both losses coming in the octagon. Last time out he had his three-fight winning streak end in a second round KO by Beneil Dariush. Klose has shown to be a good striker but he lacks knockout power. He won’t be able to grapple with his opponent and if he can’t put him down there’s only one way this fight turns out. Stephens is just a tough dude and he needs this fight to keep any hope of getting back in the title picture. A loss might get him released from the promotion, despite a number of entertaining fights over his career.
Stephens vs Klose Prediction
Our pick: Jeremy Stephens / (T)KO
See the latest UFC fight odds.