A breakdown of the fights on the main card for UFC 234 on Saturday at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Robert Whittaker (21-4) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (15-3, 1 No Contest)
Class: For Whittaker’s middleweight title
Line: Whittaker -240
Storyline: Gastelum has undoubtedly found a home at 185 pounds after weight-cutting issues held him back from achieving his full potential at 170. His only defeat at middleweight was by submission to former champ Chris Weidman, but Gastelum has bounced back with a knockout of former champ Michael Bisping and a split decision over top contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in May. He has his work cut out for him against Whittaker, whose nine straight wins include two consecutive victories over Yoel Romero in title bouts. He has fought only once since first winning the belt in July 2017, so inactivity could be a concern. Whittaker first missed time with a staph infection, then sat out as he coached against Gastelum on “The Ultimate Fighter.” This largely should be a boxing match. Gastelum is capable of taking the fight to the ground, but he tends to prefer the striking game. He might have to mix it up against Whittaker to take him out of his comfort zone. Whittaker will have a massive edge in crowd support as the only Australian champion in UFC history.
Hill’s pick: Whittaker by decision
Fang’s pick: Whittaker by decision
Israel Adesanya (15-0) vs. Anderson Silva (34-8, 1 No Contest)
Line: Adesanya -600
Storyline: This is by far the most talked about fight on the card. Silva is widely recognized as the greatest middleweight in UFC history, but the longtime champion is past his prime at age 43. Adesanya is the closest thing the organization has seen to Silva in terms of his exciting fighting style and swagger he brings to the cage. He’s essentially a younger and more dynamic version of Silva, and it’s clear why UFC matchmakers booked this fight. It’s one final chance for Silva to get a title shot and, more likely, a chance for Adesanya to boost his profile off the name of the fighter from whom he has clearly molded his style. Adesanya probably is too fast and athletic for Silva at this point of his career, but if anyone knows how to counteract his style, it’s almost certainly Silva.
Hill’s pick: Adesanya by second-round knockout
Fang’s pick: Adesanya by second-round knockout
Rani Yahya (26-9, 1 No Contest) vs. Ricky Simon (10-1)
Line: Simon -120
Storyline: Yahya seems to be coming into his own at age 34. The World Extreme Cagefighting veteran went through some ups and downs at featherweight, but dropped back down to 135 pounds in 2014 and has won eight of nine fights since. Simon, a rising prospect, has won seven consecutive fights, including two since signing with the UFC. While Simon has decent skills on the mat, he will almost certainly look to win the fight with his striking and avoid tempting fate against Yahya’s jiu-jitsu.
Hill’s pick: Yahya by second-round submission.
Fang’s pick: Yahya by third-round submission
Montana de la Rosa (9-4) vs. Nadia Kassem (5-0)
Class: Women’s flyweight
Line: De la Rosa -260
Storyline: Kassem, an undefeated Australian prospect who will step into the UFC cage for the second time, said this week she hopes to secure a high-profile bout against flyweight star Paige VanZant with a win Saturday. She might be getting ahead of herself. De la Rosa lost her first two pro fights, then won nine of her past 11, with the only losses against UFC contenders Cynthia Calvillo and Mackenzie Dern on the regional circuit. She is 2-0 in the UFC. Kassem missed weight for her UFC debut in November 2017 and took time off after beating Alex Chambers in that fight to deal with injuries. She returns at a more comfortable 125 pounds.
Hill’s pick: De la Rosa by decision
Fang’s pick: De la Rosa by second-round submission
Jimmy Crute (9-0) vs. Sam Alvey (33-10, 1 No Contest)
Class: Light heavyweight
Line: Crute -135
Storyline: Crute has spoken often this week of wanting to get in the kind of thrilling bout that could help him earn a $50,000 fight of the night bonus and even said he wouldn’t mind fighting in a “bloodbath.” He has the right opponent. Alvey is willing to take two shots to land a massive one, and his chin tends to hold up long enough for him to inflict a lot of damage. Crute is a talented prospect who didn’t show everything he wanted in his UFC debut in December because he froze under the bright lights. Still, he rallied for a submission win and earned the right to fight on this main card in his home country.
Hill’s pick: Crute by second-round knockout
Fang’s pick: Crute by third-round knockout