The octagon heads Down Under this weekend for UFC 234, as a pair of Antipodean stars look to make their mark in the UFC’s middleweight division.
But, can Australian world champ Robert Whittaker and Kiwi star Israel Adesanya send the local fans home happy with big wins?
The main event
On paper, Robert Whittaker should win Saturday night’s main event and defend his UFC middleweight title. He has more top-level experience than challenger Kelvin Gastelum and he has a better record of finishing opponents than his American opponent.
But don’t be too quick to throw your money down on the Aussie. Gastelum might just have the skillset to prove himself to be the most dangerous challenge to “Bobby Knuckles’” title to date.
Whittaker was pushed to the limit by Yoel Romero in two tough title defences, and while Gastelum certainly isn’t in Romero’s class when it comes to wrestling, the American nonetheless has a prodigious grappling game and underrated punch power.
If he stands at range and looks to box Whittaker, the Aussie will have it all his own way. But, if Gastelum gets up close and personal and takes it into the trenches, then he has more than a puncher’s chance of claiming the upset victory.
Gastelum’s durability is worth noting, too. Despite facing a host of legitimate finishers both at welterweight and middleweight, he’s never been stopped with strikes in his mixed martial arts career. That fact, along with his improving hands and excellent wrestling, could prove to be a major problem for Whittaker.
From my standpoint, this is a near 50-50 fight, but the 2/1 odds on a Gastelum win make him the more attractive bet.
A Gastelum win would be a shock result, but in a closely-matched title fight, the 8/1 odds on a decision victory make the American a bet well worth considering.
To win: 1/3
To win by KO/TKO: 6/4
To win by submission: 18/1
To win by points: 21/10
To win: 2/1
To win by KO/TKO: 7/2
To win by submission: 17/1
To win by points: 8/1
From pretender to contender
The co-main event between Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva is threatening to steal the show already, and we’re not even at fight night yet.
Silva is MMA royalty. The former UFC middleweight champ is considered to be one of the greatest to ever do it, and his spectacular striking style is a mainstay of just about every half-decent MMA highlight reel you can find.
But if Silva is the original striking superstar, Adesanya might just be “Version 2.0”.
The Kiwi kickboxing ace has transitioned to the octagon with consummate ease, and he put away Derek Brunson in devastating fashion in his last outing.
Adesanya looks every inch the next world title contender, but first, he has to put away a legend. And the Paddy Power oddsmakers haven’t pulled their punches in their assessment of the fight.
UFC legend Silva is whopping 4/1 underdog. Given what we’ve seen from Silva in his career, you could call that downright disrespectful. But only if you’ve never seen Adesanya fight.
That’s because the lad is Just. That. Good.
Adesanya is an incredible 1/7 to get the W on Saturday night, and is also odds-on to get it by KO or TKO (8/11). There’s not much in the way of value there, but that’s how it’s almost certainly going to happen.
Provided the super-relaxed, super-confident Kiwi doesn’t freeze in the presence of greatness and get cracked like Vitor Belfort, Adesanya has every tool in his arsenal to finish Silva and become an instant superstar.
Make no mistake, he’s already a star, but “The Last Stylebender’s” stock is about to go stratospheric.
To win: 4/1
To win by KO/TKO: 8/1
To win by submission: 13/1
To win by points: 12/1
To win: 1/7
To win by KO/TKO: 8/11
To win by submission: 33/1
To win by points: 21/10