Exciting news and storylines pop up in the combat sports world every day. In this weekly series, our UFC team will answer questions that fight fans are asking themselves, with bold takes and differing opinions on each topic.
No. 1 middleweight contender and former champ Robert Whittaker dominated Kelvin Gastelum over five rounds in Saturday’s main event. With three extremely impressive victories in a row, has Whittaker shown you anything that could change the outcome of a rematch with current champ Israel Adesanya?
William: First and foremost, I want to put some shine on just how good Robert Whittaker has looked over the past year. He soundly beat Darren Till, and absolutely dominated Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum. That’s three impressive wins in a row in very short order.
His control of range has been phenomenal, and his punch and kick combinations have been downright lethal. Mix in some takedowns and you have a much improved fighter we are witnessing. Now, I’m not quite sure he’s improved enough to beat Adesanya, but he can definitely come into this fight with a different approach. In his first fight against Adesanya he tried to charge him to close the distance and was being eaten alive with counters. This renewed Whittaker at range with takedowns mixed in could make things very interesting.
There is absolutely no question Whittaker is next for the belt, in fact, I would argue he more than deserves a rematch after beating Cannonier in October.
Nick: I think Robert Whittaker looks better right now than he ever has in his UFC career. His striking is crisp and calculated, his wrestling is fast and heavy. The fluid punch-kick combinations he was unleashing on Kelvin Gastelum were jaw-dropping and the way he parlayed those straight into takedowns… jeez. This dude is absolutely locked in right now.
I’m not sure the end result of the inevitable rematch with Adesanya will be different, but the fight certainly could be. Whittaker is showcasing an advanced version of his former self that was nonexistent when these two fought for the first time back in 2019. That said, Israel Adesanya is still Israel Adesanya and while the rematch may be more closely-contested than the first fight, I’m not totally convinced Whittaker has what it takes to dethrone the king.
Another thing we have to keep in mind is the fact that Adesanya finally lost a fight. I don’t want to go as far as to say the “blueprint is out” on how to beat him, but Jan Blachowicz definitely revealed some major holes in Adesanya’s game that hadn’t been exposed prior. We’ll see if Whittaker can capitalize on that and spring an upset this time around.
Zack: There were some moments when I was watching Robert Whittaker when I was just sitting back surprised because he was rolling combinations into takedowns or countering and parrying so quickly and they were things that I didn’t think he could do before. Some fighters can piece up their opponent, but few are able to really disassemble an opponent, and Whittaker was flatly disassembling a very good fighter in Kelvin Gastelum.
Now I’m not saying that Bobby Knuckles wasn’t able to take apart an opponent before this fight because just about every fighter that wins a belt is able to do that, but the five rounds of consistency and wire to wire dominance was something that was unexpected to me. That performance is more than enough to get Whittaker the sequel against Israel Adesanya, but as we’ve been asked, will he be good enough to change the outcome?
If we’re going very basic with this question and asking whether Whittaker will be knocked out in the second round again, I would say no. I could see him being knocked out in any of the rounds and I could see him losing a decision, but I can’t see him winning this fight. The only reason Adesanya lost his fight against Blachowicz was because of the massive weight disadvantage. Izzy clipped Jan a few times, but the size difference was just too much. Whittaker will not be able to lay on Adesanya, he’ll be forced to stand and fight and that’s where Adesanya kills. Whittaker is still not good enough to beat Adesanya unless he gets a tremendously lucky one punch drop.
The week before, another middleweight main event saw Marvin Vettori bully Kevin Holland with five rounds of nonstop wrestling. With Vettori calling for a title shot next, is it warranted? If not, who should be next for Vettori?
William: Vettori did what he had to do to get the win over Kevin Holland. The always dangerous Holland was having good success on the feet but his takedown defense again failed him as Vettori dragged him to the ground over and over again. In the process of this he set the middleweight record for takedowns in a fight.
Now does this performance warrant a title shot? I don’t think so, but I think it warrants him calling for one. What I mean by that is Vettori has now won five fights in a row, I don’t blame him for calling for a title shot and putting his name in that conversation. But does he really deserve it? He looked impressive in his wins over Hermansson and Holland, but he is not close to Whittaker in terms of recent resume. I think he needs one more win to really solidify his spot as the number one contender after Whittaker and Adesanya fight. I would be interested in a fight between him and Cannonier or him and Costa targeted at the end of the summer to line the timelines up with Adesanya/Whittaker.
Nick: I rarely call fights boring because I think it’s a casual thing to say and I try to find the good parts of every scrap, but frankly, this fight was boring. Marvin Vettori manhandled Kevin Holland, taking him to the ground and wrestling him to death for 25 straight minutes. It’s no knock against Vettori, he did what he had to do to win, but Holland was just so ridiculously overmatched on the ground that there weren’t even any exciting scrambles or high-level grappling exchanges. Pretty much a yawn from the opening bell.
I think it’s a real bummer that Vettori didn’t get to fight Darren Till like originally planned, because a dominating victory in that bout would have given him a much stronger argument for a title shot. Unfortunately, Holland isn’t on the same pedigree in terms of quality wins, let alone when he’s coming in on a 16-day turnaround.
For these reasons, Vettori will probably need one more win before realizing a title shot. That said, I definitely believe that his call-out is warranted. After all, Vettori is the only middleweight fighter in the world to beat the current king Israel Adesanya, even if it was just on one scorecard. That split decision loss to Adesanya in 2018 certainly holds some value and if Vettori can put a top-5 scalp in his satchel, I would absolutely be in favor of seeing those two run it back after all these years.
Zack: I suppose that when you get to this level of fighting, the opponent shouldn’t necessarily matter to your title aspirations as long as they’re moderately legitimate, and I think Kevin Holland is sufficient, but I won’t argue if anyone wants to say that Vettori needs another fight. Despite his loss to Błachowicz, I still think throwing fighters at Adesanya will be sending them to slaughter. Israel has beaten all of the top guys in this division, but it’s been a while since the Vettori fight, so maybe we could see something new from the Italian.
But I get it if you think Marvin needs another fight to get the title shot. The guys who are fighting this weekend, Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum, have given Adesanya two of his best fights with Kelvin nearly knocking out Izzy at points in their bout. If Whittaker wins, he deserves a title shot. If Costa wins his next fight, he deserves another shot. To be fair to Holland, he was fighting three weeks after a grueling five round loss to Derrick Brunson, so the competition wasn’t the best it could have been for Vettori.
In my opinion, depending on the timeframes, Vettori should get a shot at the belt without needing another fight. He’s the #3 contender on a five fight win streak and we all know the UFC has given title shots for less. I don’t know when Israel will fight next or if Whittaker will be ready for that date assuming he wins this fight, but if the timelines work out, Vettori should get a title shot. That being said, Whittaker will now be in position for the next shot and a very fun title eliminator between Vettori and Costa could be in the making.
In recent news, the big fight announced was the co-main event at UFC 262 featuring Nate Diaz vs. Leon Edwards. Were you surprised at this fight pairing and how do you think it will play out?
William: I feel like Nate Diaz’s fights seemingly come out of nowhere and it is often an opponent that surprises us and makes him relevant immediately. This fight is no different. For Leon Edwards, this was a no brainer. Fight one of the biggest names in the sport in a stylistic matchup that overwhelmingly favors him while propelling him to a title shot with a win.
With this being a five round fight, that probably plays in Diaz’s favor as he gets stronger as the fight goes on. But Leon Edwards isn’t known for gassing out and should be there with him over five rounds. Per a usual Diaz fight, expect him to be bloodied and battered, but I think he can keep this closer than the line suggests. Edwards will be keen to stay on the outside and pick Diaz apart from distance while Diaz will be trying to pressure Edwards against the cage early and often. I ultimately see Edwards winning a decision here, but I love the fight all around. Anytime we get to see a Nate Diaz press conference, I’m all in.
On a final note, could you imagine if Masvidal were to win this weekend and Diaz wins in May versus Edwards? The UFC would have some serious business decisions to make.
Nick: I love this move by the UFC because it’s kind of a win-win scenario for them as a promotion. Obviously, if Diaz wins, he’s back. Plain and simple. A Diaz victory in this spot would open up a plethora of money-making scenarios for both him and the UFC. On the other hand, if Edwards wins, his stock in the public eye skyrockets. A win over Diaz could do wonders for Edwards’ promotional value and marketability as a potential PPV headliner.
An interesting storyline that seems to have been overlooked since this fight was announced is the fact that it’s a five-round fight. The first ever five-round, non-title co-main event in UFC history (man, that’s a lot of hyphens). This probably gives a slight advantage to Diaz given his storied history with five-round wars throughout his career, but I don’t think it’s enough of an advantage to matter.
I can’t wait for the lead up to this fight and the mental warfare destined to ensue in the upcoming press conferences. It’s going to be pretty entertaining.
In terms of what will happen once the Octagon door closes, I don’t think there’s much debate. Edwards should win this fight and he should win it pretty easily (hence the -400 betting line). He’s primed and ready to take the next step up in the welterweight division. Adding to that, I’d imagine Edwards is pretty pissed off after having multiple bouts canceled and his last fight ending in a no-contest after an inadvertent eye-poke. Diaz isn’t to be taken lightly, but I don’t think he’ll be much of a challenge for Edwards.
Zack: I’m right there with Nick in thinking that this fight is a great event for the UFC. Leon is a win away from the title shot anyways, so why not get him someone who will absolutely draw eyes in a Diaz brother? This event is going to do huge numbers and will almost certainly be monumental for the career of the winner.
That being said, I don’t really love the prospects of the result for Nate. There’s a reason Nate doesn’t have a number by his name anymore and you can look at age and quality for an answer. Nate hasn’t fought for a year and a half when he was stopped by Jorge Masvidal for the BMF belt and prior to that it seemed like Nate was slowing down a bit. Of course Nate has never been someone you judge by their record, but the point still stands.
On the other hand, we didn’t get a full showcase of what Leon Edwards could do considering the eye poke that stopped the Belal Muhammed fight, but the Englishman was absolutely piecing up Belal to that point. Despite not fighting for a year and nine months Belal was on the end of some serious business and I think Belal is a much better fighter than Nate right now. Leon is a serious contender at welterweight and I won’t be surprised if he steamrolls Nate en route to a title shot.
Perhaps stealing the headlines over the weekend was Jake Paul’s first round knockout over Ben Askren. Did Paul’s performance impress you at all and what did you think of the entire showcase as a whole?
William: Man, was I disappointed in Saturday’s card. Let me tell you, I love a good spectacle on a fight card, but this was more a concert than actual boxing. If Triller wants to keep putting on these types of events, they need to be predominantly boxing cards with music mixed in, if at all.
Now onto the fight. I think if anyone says they were particularly impressed with Jake Paul’s performance they are simply unfamiliar with who Ben Askren is and his pedigree as a striker. I will say Jake Paul handled the pressure well with almost everyone rooting for him to lose. Now, for his next fight he needs to pick someone with a real boxing background if he wants to keep pandering himself as a “real boxer” and not just a “Youtube boxer.”
Nick: For starters, I didn’t watch because I didn’t care. The ridiculous shows that Triller continues to produce are pretty stupid and not worth my time, but they’re making a lot of money, so I can’t blame them for that.
In terms of the actual “fight”, Jake Paul beat a 36-year-old wrestler with a hip replacement. Big deal. Ben Askren got paid half a million dollars to stand in the ring for two minutes and didn’t seem bothered by getting starched in the first round. Good for him.
Buy yourself something nice, Ben.
Zack: I did not watch this card on Saturday because I was busy doing two things, watching the Reds play Cleveland and sitting on a back porch in the dark. I could not have cared less about this card if you paid me to care less. Is knocking out Ben Askren in the first round an impressive feat? Maybe at some point in his life it was, but to knock out an out of shape 36 year old wrestler who’s coming off a hip replacement doesn’t impress me. Hell, Jorge Masvidal knocked Ben Askren out more than 22 times faster in a discipline that Askren had actually trained in. Apparently Askren made the standing eight count and said he was ready anyways, but the fight still ended, so does anyone actually know what happened?
These celebrity fights do not interest me. I don’t care that Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield are fighting right now, so you’re not going to get me to care about YouTubers fighting other retired fighters. If Jake Paul wants to turn pro and start fighting at weight against other professional boxers, I’ll give it a chance, but I can’t get up for this. This is boring. I’m glad Ben was smiling afterwards and I hope he made enough money that he doesn’t have to do this type of thing again.