Ben Askren’s boxing fight against Jake Paul this Saturday has unfortunately left Robert Whittaker’s main event matchup against Kelvin Gastelum on the backburner for most combat sports fans. But much like his fight this weekend, Whittaker’s accomplishments have been criminally overlooked in the middleweight division. Since losing his 185-pound title against champion Israel Adesanya in 2019, Whittaker has rebounded with two solid victories against Darren Till and Jared Cannonier. You would think a victory on Saturday would secure Whittaker as the frontrunner, but there are other factors at play.
Politics Getting In The Way
Israel Adesanya's coach says Darren Till 'front-runner' for next middleweight title shot https://t.co/X0pyG72i31
— MMA Junkie (@MMAjunkie) March 10, 2021
Prior to Darren Till withdrawing from his fight against Marvin Vettori on April 10, it appeared like the 28-year-old was the opponent of choice for Adesanya’s team. Despite Whittaker defeating “The Gorilla” last summer, Till’s popularity made him a potential frontrunner for the middleweight title. Kevin Holland ended replacing Till only to lose a decision against Vettori at UFC Vegas 23. Now Vettori (and his management team) is staking his claim for the next 185-pound title shot, and the pair have some history with Adesayna defeating the Kings MMA standout by split decision at UFC on FOX 29.
— MMA Junkie (@MMAjunkie) April 15, 2021
Resume Speaks For Itself
Since moving up to 185-pounds in late 2014, “The Reaper” has amassed a 10-1 record, including victories over Derek Brunson, Jacare Souza, and Yoel Romero (twice). However injuries and “burnout” culminated in his first stoppage loss since February 2014, as Adesanya finished the Australian native in the second round at UFC 243. Following the setback, many pundits felt like Whittaker’s best days were behind him. Instead, the 30-year-old silenced those critics with back-to-back victories over ranked fighters in the division.
— UFC (@ufc) March 30, 2021
Whittaker is the betting favorite (-280) over Gastelum (+220) for Saturday’s main event (via Fanduel) It’s the first time since 2018 that the former champion been more than a 2-1 favorite. Gastelum snapped a three-fight skid in his last bout by defeating Ian Heinisch by decision at UFC 258 in February. These two were slated to fight at UFC 234 before a hernia pulled Whittaker from the bout just hours before the matchup.
UFC Vegas 24 takes place at the UFC Apex this Saturday in Las Vegas.