There are levels to this.
That was abundantly clear at UFC on ESPN 22 on Saturday, when former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker outclassed Kelvin Gastelum, overwhelming him to earn a decisive unanimous decision win that should set him up for a title rematch with Israel Adesanya.
“It’s a smaller octagon, so I had to play to that,” Whittaker said. “Cater to it, if you would. The idea was be first, attack, make him pay. If he comes forward, make him pay. If he’s standing there, if he’s in midrange, make him pay.”
Whittaker controlled the first round, outlanding Gastelum in the striking exchanges and then shooting for a successful takedown midway through the round. Gastelum only got back to his feet with a few seconds remaining and couldn’t do anything of substance.
The heavy-handed Gastelum continued to come forward in the second, but Whittaker picked him apart from the outside with his jab and followed with high kicks. With Whittaker clearly up three rounds to none, Gastelum landed a takedown in the fourth, only to see Whittaker pop right back up to his feet. Gastelum knew he needed a finish in the final round and he fought like it. But Whittaker again flexed his elite fight-IQ, taking Gastelum down and holding him on the mat for the final seconds of the fight.
Whittaker and Gastelum were scheduled to meet in February 2019, when Whittaker was the middleweight champion. But “The Reaper” was hospitalized on the morning of the fight, forcing its cancellation. He later lost the belt to Adesanya.
This was Whittaker’s third straight win, all coming against elite competition. He mentioned a possible September rematch with Adesanya in New Zealand.
“There is no fight that makes sense for me other than that title shot,” he said. “And that’s the shot that I want, and I’m getting.”
In the co-main event, former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski earned a unanimous decision win over Chase Sherman. Arlovski, who closed as a betting underdog for the 17th straight fight, moved around the cage and avoided most of Sherman’s power punches to earn three scorecards of 29-28 in his favor. Sherman tried to draw Arlovski into a firefight in the final round, but Arlovski stuck to his game plan.
“Victory is more important, and when I didn’t stick with game plan, it’s sometimes not really good end for me,” he said. “My coaches, they told me just move around, keep your hands up and do what you have to do.”
Luis Pena used a six-inch height advantage to outstrike hand Alex Munoz his second straight loss. After a tough first round, Pena continually stuffed Munoz’s takedown attempts and earned a hard-fought split decision win.
Abdul Razak Alhassan had no answer for Jacob Malkoun’s wrestling attack and fell to 0-3 in fights that go past the first round. Malkoun, a training partner of Whittaker, weathered an early storm and then repeatedly took the fight to the mat en route to a unanimous decision win (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
The scheduled co-main event between Drakkar Klose and Jeremy Stephens was canceled for a bizarre reason. After Stephens shoved Klose during Friday’s weigh-in, Klose ended up in the hospital with a neck injury. UFC officials plan to re-book the fight.
— Drakkar Klose (@drakkarklose) April 17, 2021
UFC on ESPN 22
Results of Saturday’s card at the Apex
Robert Whittaker def. Kelvin Gastelum, unanimous decision, (50-45, 50-45, 50-45), middleweights
Andrei Arlovski def. Chase Sherman, unanimous decision (29-28-29-28, 29-28), heavyweights
Jacob Malkoun def. Abdul Razak Alhassan, unanimous decision (30-27), middleweights
Tracy Cortez def. Justine Kish, split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27), flyweights
Luis Pena def. Alex Munoz, split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28), lightweights
Alexandr Romanov def. Juan Espino, split technical decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28), heavyweights
Jessica Penne def. Loopy Godinez, split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28), strawweights
Gerald Meerschaert def. Bartosz Fabinski, submission, first round (2:00), middleweights
Austin Hubbard def. Dakota Bush, unanimous decision, (29-28, 29-28, 29-28), lightweights
Tony Gravely def. Anthony Birchak, TKO, second round (1:31), bantamweights