Whittaker impresses again in third-straight win over top-10 competition

UFC Vegas 24 was headlined by a middleweight bout with major implications for the division’s title picture. If former champion and top-ranked star Robert Whittaker won, he would all but guarantee a championship rematch with current champion Israel Adesanya. If former title contender Kelvin Gastelum was victorious, “The Reaper’s” rematch train would be DOA, and third-ranked Marvin Vettori’s chance for a title fight would increase exponentially.

To start the fight, Gastelum came out and pressured the former champion, but Whittaker sniped him early and was landing counter shots and lunging straights with regularity. Midway through Whittaker landed a beautiful feint and high kick combo that seemed to stun the onetime title contender. Thirty seconds later he scored a big trip takedown and was able to control from top position for much of the rest of the round.

The second frame was much like the first. Gastelum playing the pressure fighter and landing here and there, but Whittaker showed supreme skill in sitting in the pocket, feeling the heat, and landing the more damaging strikes. He also scored another thumping trip takedown. Whittaker was fighting an impressive mid-range game, staying just outside of danger but close enough to unleash his own offense. However, Gastelum was game and going nowhere.

The third round was the closet of the fight, as Whittaker slowed just a smidge while his opponent showed a fantastic gas tank while constantly pushing the pace. However, Whittaker was always up to the task as he displayed great footwork and counters. But Gastelum was getting his pound of flesh and making the Aussie work.

On occasion, Gastelum smartly tried to mix it up and go for takedowns, but “Bobby Knuckles” shrugged it off every time. For each shot he lands, Whittaker seems to get him with two or three in return. Similar to the Till and Canonnier fights, Whittaker is showing the world why he is one of the best middleweights in the world now, and ever. The fifth round was more of the same but just at a slower pace as both men had put in a serious night of work to try and take the other’s head off. Whittaker even threw in a late takedown to put a definitive finish on another impressive win over a top-10 talent. The 30-year-old won every single round on all three judge’s cards.

All due respect to Vettori, his impressive five-fight win streak, and third ranking in the division, but “The Reaper” has done all that is needed and then some in earning a second chance at division king Adesanya. Point blank and period. As for Gastelum, the short notice booking was a win-win scenario for him. However, the eighth-ranked middleweight is still 1-4 in his last five and in a weird place in his career. It may be time for him to face threats again outside the top-10 and get some back-to-back wins under belt.

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