Robert Whittaker was well underway in a fight champ for recent title challenger Paulo Costa when he got the news: Costa was out. Kelvin Gastelum was stepping up to take his place.
Gastelum is certainly a suitable replacement, in essence saving the main event of the UFC Vegas 24 card on ESPN on Saturday night. An opponent switch, however, is always a wrench in the works.
Speaking at this week’s UFC Vegas 24 media day, Whittaker (22-5) appeared to have cleared the hurdle without too many issues. “Fortunately I was given a month to still do that, and I had prevously camped for Gastelum as well. Both things just lead up into my favor for actually accepting the change,” he noted.
Beyond that, Whittaker observed that he’d had fights recently with other southpaws. “So it’s not too much of a stretch. Obviously stylistically, Gastelum and Costa are two very different fighters. But it is what it is.”
Whittaker and Gastelum were previously scheduled to face off, for a title bout back when Whittaker still held gold. That has added an extra storyline to an already important fight for the middleweight division, though Whittaker doesn’t read too much into it.
“It just made it special, if you would. It’s not something like, ‘I’ve got to fight him one day, I can’t believe that fell through,'” said Whittaker. “We were supposed to fight at one point, and here we are. Our pathes cross again.”
Given the trials and tribulations Whittaker has had in recent years, perhaps the fight with Gastelum falling through was for the best, it was suggested. “Maybe, who knows. I guess the real thing is, I’m a very different beast than I was back then,” he replied. “From a technical point of view, I’m a much more complete athlete. But as well as the mental game, which only reinforces all that, has never been better.”
What it all comes down to is that Whittaker, like Gastelum himself, is expecting a very competitive bout. “I think it’s going to be a cracker of a fight. It’s going to be fireworks,” the former champ said. As to why the pair matches up so well, Whittaker suggested it was because “skill set wise, we both are quite well-rounded. And I think we both lean heavily into the striking side of things, so I think the formula works.”
Robert Whittaker faces Kelvin Gastelum atop the UFC Vegas 24 card on Saturday, April 17. The event airs live on ESPN (TSN in Canada).