Robert Whittaker Puts on Striking Exhibition, Bests Kelvin Gastelum at UFC on ESPN 22

By Tristen Critchfield Apr 17, 2021

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Robert Whittaker is on the verge of getting a chance to reclaim the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight belt.

The ex-champion put on a striking master class against Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC on ESPN 22 main event, sweeping the scorecards by a trio of 50-45 counts. Whittaker (23-5, 14-3 UFC) has now bested Gastelum, Jared Cannonier and Darren Till in succession since relinquishing the 185-pound title to Israel Adesanya in October 2019.

“I’m feeling on top of the world,” Whittaker said. “Obviously this was a very hard fight. I think a lot of people were selling Kelvin short because of where he’s ranked, but I think he’s a very tough fight.”

The PMA Super Martial Arts representative was one step ahead of Gastelum (16-6, 1 NC, 11-6, 1 NC UFC) for the entire 25 minutes. Whittaker set the tone when he briefly dazed Gastelum with a head kick in the opening stanza, and although “The Ultimate Fighter 17” winner survived that moment, he never had an answer for his opponent’s diverse offensive arsenal.

Whittaker attacked with crisp punching combinations — often of the countering variety — and kicks to the head, legs and body while sprinkling in the occasional takedown, including one that put a final stamp on his victory with two minutes remaining in the fight. To his credit, Gastelum absorbed everything Whittaker had to offer. While Gastelum pressured his foe consistently, Whittaker utilized good footwork and movement to avoid taking serious damage.

Gastelum, who stepped in as a replacement for Paulo Costa, has lost four of his last five UFC appearances. Whittaker, meanwhile, has a rematch with Adesanya in his sights.

“I think it’s about time we crossed paths once again,” Whittaker said. “I think we can get a sold out stadium.”

Arlovski Earns 20th UFC Triumph

Andrei Arlovski continues to find a way.

The former heavyweight champion got stronger as the fight progressed to capture a three-round verdict against Chase Sherman in Saturday’s co-main event. All three judges scored the fight for Arlovski: 29-28, 29-28 and 29-28. Sherman (15-7, 3-6 UFC) saw a four-bout winning streak come to an end.

Sherman had “The Pit Bull” in trouble in Round 1, when he appeared to briefly stun him and flurried with punches against the fence. Arlovski (31-20, 20-14 UFC) was able to survive the barrage, however, and he gradually took control over the final two rounds. The 42-year-old American Top Team product landed quick punching combinations to the head and body, chopped away at the lead leg and connected with push kicks to the midsection. By Round 3, Sherman admitted to his corner that he was having difficulty planting on his leg. Nonethless, “The Vanilla Gorilla” urged his foe to meet him in the center of the Octagon in the waning seconds of the fight, but by then Arlovski had built too big a lead on the scorecards.

Arlovski has been victorious in four of six promotional appearances dating back to July 2019.

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Malkoun Grinds Past Reeling Alhassan

Jacob Malkoun never gave Abdul Razak Alhassan an opportunity to breathe, as he captured a dominant three-round verdict in a middleweight scrap. Malkoun (5-1, 1-1 UFC) cruised on the scorecards, receiving a trio of 30-27 marks from the cageside judges. Alhassan, who was making his 185-pound debut in the Octagon, has lost three straight bouts after winning four of his first five promotional appearances.

Malkoun (5-1, 1-1 UFC) made no effort to disguise his game plan. From the outset, the Robert Whittaker training partner pressured the heavy-handed Alhassan, landing multiple takedowns in the opening frame and draining his opponent’s energy meter. That strategy continued for the rest of the fight, including a lopsided Round 2 in which Malkoun threatened with multiple chokes while on the mat. Thanks to his inability to remain upright and off the cage, Alhassan never had a chance to unleash his potent striking.

Wrestling Carries Cortez Past Kish

Tracy Cortez relied on takedowns and grappling to earn a split-decision triumph over Justine Kish in a flyweight affair. Derek Cleary scored the fight 29-28 and Rick Winter had it 30-27, both for Cortez, while Sal D’Amato submitted a 29-28 tally for Kish. It was Cortez’s first 125-pound appearance in the promotion after two wins at bantamweight, but the Fight Ready representative missed weight by 0.5 pounds on Friday.

Cortez (9-1, 3-0 UFC) did some of her best work in Round 1, when she punished Kish with heavy hammerfists from inside the guard and then spent a significant portion of the period attached to her opponent’s back. Cortez executed back takes in the second and third round as well, but Kish (7-4, 3-4 UFC) was more competitive over the final 10 minutes thanks to her standup acumen -- including buckling her foe with a counter right hand late in the final frame.

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Pena Takes Split Verdict Over Munoz

“The Ultimate Fighter 27” competitor Luis Pena earned a hard-fought split-decision triumph against Alex Munoz in a lightweight encounter. Judges Sal D’Amato and Rick Winter saw the fight 29-28 for “Violent Bob Ross,” while Michael Bell favored Munoz by a 29-28 count. Pena (9-3, 5-3 UFC) is now 1-2 within the Las Vegas-based promotion in bouts that go to split decision.

Munoz (6-2, 0-2 UFC) set the pace early, as he found Pena’s chin with right hands while blending in takedowns and clinch work. Pena began to find his rhythm in Round 2 and that continued into the final five minutes, as he tagged the Team Alpha Male wrestling coach with long punches, kicks and the occasional knee. Over time, Pena’s flowing offense had the hard-charging Munoz on his back foot.

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