There was no question as to whether the UFC Vegas 24 main event on Saturday was intriguing. It was. After being booked opposite one another roughly two years ago, Robert Whittaker and Kevin Gastelum finally faced atop the ESPN card.
The big question, really, was whether the winner could punch their ticket to a rematch with Israel Adesanya.
Whittaker opened the fight with a kick and right cross. Gastelum countered with a kick and then charged Whittaker, but nothing came of it. Both fighters land clean hooks after that. Whittaker landed his combo with a kick, and it hurt Gastelum. That was key, coming so early in the round. Whittaker landed the same combo again. Gastelum moved in close to Whittaker, and Whittaker landed a takedown. With two minutes left in the round, Whittaker went into half guard. Whittaker landed a little ground and pound with a minute left but nothing heavy. 40 seconds left, and Whittaker landed a quick elbow. 20 seconds left in the round, and Gastelum got up. Whittaker landed another head kick, but Gastelum blocked it to end the round. A very dominant opening round by Whittaker.
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In round two, Gastelum took the center of the octagon and started swinging but Whittaker countered with a hook. Whittaker landed a nice jab that snapped Gastelum’s head back. Gastelum went forward and ate a jab. Whittaker landed a hard takedown and put Gastelum on his back with less than two minutes left. Whittaker landed his high kick again, followed by a hard right hand. With under two minutes to go in the frame, Whittaker landed his high kick again and stung Gastelum. Gastelum chased Whittaker to the cage and ate a kick. Whittaker landed a body kick with 11 seconds left, closing out the second.
Down two rounds, Gastelum took the center of the octagon to start round three again. Gastelum landed a left hand on Whittaker and then hit Whittaker low. Whittaker didn’t want a break and landed a kick when they continued. Gastelum landed a high kick and a combo afterward; Whittaker landed a heavy jab with three minutes left in the round. Whittaker caught Gastelum coming in with a counter followed by a combo. Two minutes left, and Whittaker landed another three-punch combo. Gastelum landed a jab with a minute left and ate a combo for it. Gastelum blocked a hard right high kick with 20 seconds to go. Whittaker landed a 1-2-3 combo to end round three.
Heading into the later rounds, Gastelum was clearly down, playing catch-up. The fourth round opened with Gastelum charging Whittaker and landing a knee to Whittaker’s stomach. One minute into the stanza and Whittaker threw a flying knee, but Gastelum blocked it. Whittaker threw a right kick but was blocked. Whittaker landed a nice uppercut next, and later a combo followed by his high kick. Gastelum landed a right hand with over a minute and a half left. Whittaker answered with his own combo followed by a counter with Gastelum coming in. Gastelum landed a take down with under a minute remaining, but Whittaker got up instantly. Whittaker landed two low kicks and uppercut to end round four.
Simply put, Kelvin Gastelum needed a finish entering round five. Whittaker had hurt him early, and built up an insurmountable lead. Gastelum charged Whittaker and landed a nice right hand, but ate a counter for his troubles. Gastelum clinched Whittaker against the fence but Whittaker escaped quickly. Gastelum landed a body punch but ate a counter-right hook for it. Whittaker landed a front kick that hit Gastelum’s chin with 2:30 left. Whittaker’s kicks, throughout the fight, were an ongoing threat and a big problem for Gastelum. Kelvin fired off a 1-2 but missed. Whittaker landed a takedown with just under two minutes remaining, and was immediately in half guard. Whittaker transitioned to mount, but Gastelum escaped. Whittaker took Gastelum’s back with double hooks in. Gastelum tried to escape, but Whittaker landed on top.
In the end, Whittaker couldn’t finish Kevlin Gastelum. He did, however, dominate him. That might have been Whittaker’s best performance, and he looked as if he was on another level.
Israel Adesanya must be next for Whittaker, and that’s exactly the fight “The Reaper” called for following the bout.
Official Result: Robert Whittaker def. Kelvin Gastelum by unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45)