UFC on ESPN: Whittaker vs. Gastelum Predictions
Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Former middleweight champion Whittaker appeared to be back in top form last time out against Jared Cannonier, while Gastelum shook off a three-fight losing streak with a decision victory against Ian Heinisch.
Whittaker’s striking had become a little reckless at times in his previous outings, but against Cannonier he looked sharper, mixing up his strikes well, while working the jab in particular to good effect.
The short, stocky Gastelum will be at a 3″ height and 2″ reach disadvantage here. He isn’t as technically sound as Whittaker on the feet, but he does have considerable power and is surprisingly fast at covering ground, which can make for dangerous combination. Added to that he’s also very tough, having never been stopped by strikes in his career to date.
Gastelum’s wrestling is perhaps underutilized, but given Whittaker’s stout takedown defense I don’t see that being a factor here even if he does try to lean toward it.
Instead I feel Whittaker’s solid fundamentals and crisper, cleaner strikes will allow him to get the better of the stand-up action, though he won’t be able to find a finish to end this one inside the distance.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker to win by decision.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Drakkar Klose
Approaching his 14th year in the UFC, Stephens finds himself in a tough spot after going winless in his last five fights, though the quality of opposition has been consistently high, going up against Jose Aldo, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Yair Rodriguez (twice) and most recently Calvin Kattar.
Nevertheless, having so many fights and having squared off against numerous top contenders takes its toll and as tough as he’s typically been, the fact that Stephens suffered a KO loss last time out against Kattar will be a concern heading into this one.
That being said, Klose is also looking to rebound from an equally tough KO defeat against Beneil Dariush over a year ago, but he does have the comfort of knowing he won a trio of bouts before that.
This is likely to be a striking battle first-and-foremost and Stephens is certainly the more aggressive, heavier hitter of the two, having finished the likes of Josh Emmett, Doo Ho Choi, Rafael dos Anjos and Dennis Bermudez over the years.
On the other hand it should be noted that while Klose has decent power, he has yet to find a finish in seven Octagon outings to date. He does however operate well on the outside, can counter nicely and has been able to keep a good pace and outpoint other respected strikers like Bobby Green, Marc Diakese and Lando Vannata during his UFC run.
I can see this one being very closely contested, but I think if Stephens can’t find a finish then the fresher and more calculated Klose will do just enough to eek out a win on the scorecards.
Prediction: Drakkar Klose to win by decision.
Chase Sherman vs. Andrei Arlovski
Arlovski comes in on just a weeks notice here, no doubt hoping to quickly cast aside the disappointment of having had his back-to-back wins in 2020 cancelled out by a submission loss against Tom Aspinall last time out.
As for Sherman, his first run in the UFC between 2016-2018 saw him muster just two wins in six fights, but after three TKO victories in a row for the Island Fights promotion, he’s been welcomed back to the Octagon and continued that streak with another TKO finish against Isaac Villaneuva last May.
Both men will be happy to trade on the feet here, but have different approaches. These days Arlovski is content to take his time and look to outpoint his opponents with his striking technique rather than swing for the fences and risk getting caught, which is sensible given that he’s now 42 and doesn’t have the sturdiest chin.
On the other hand, Sherman is an all-offense striker who will apply a lot of pressure with leg kicks and punches while seeking the big finish, which has been a successful strategy for him at a certain level, but against better quality opposition has seen him falter.
This one could go either way due to Sherman’s finishing threat, but I think Arlovski’s more skilled and measured approach will enable him to pick at the holes in Sherman’s defense and outstrike him to earn a decision win.
Prediction: Andrei Arlovski to win by decision.
Luis Pena vs. Alex Munoz
After losing two of his last three fights, Pena now finds himself going up against a relative newcomer to the UFC in Munoz, whose only fight in the Octagon so far ended in a unanimous decision loss to Nasrat Haqparast last year.
As one of the lankiest dudes in the lighter weight classes it almost goes without saying that Pena will be the bigger man here, standing 6″ taller and with a 3″ reach advantage.
He makes use of that with strikes from range, but can also threaten with elbows and knees from closer range and is a significant threat with submissions on the mat too.
As for Munoz, his gameplan is more straightforward as he is a very good wrestler and will stick rigidly to pursuing that, but could have some real issues if he can’t get the fight to the mat.
Still, while Pena has more ways to win I think his relatively weak takedown defense will be his worst enemy here as Munoz doggedly pursues takedowns and will control the action from on top to grind out a decision win here.
Prediction: Alex Munoz to win by decision.
Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. jacob Malkoun
Alhassan is coming off a 30 second KO loss against Kalinn Williams, which is never good for a fighter’s confidence, but he might feel a bit better in the knowledge that his next opponent Malkoun was finished even faster in his UFC debut last time out, with Khama Worthy demolishing him in just 16 seconds.
That was a rough look for Malkoun, who only has five fights on his entire record, with his main calling card being the fact that he is a training partner of former middleweight champ Robert Whittaker.
Malkoun could have more to offer and seems to have some boxing ability as well as jiu-jitsu, but he’s going up against a fearsome striker in Alhassan, who has finished all 10 of his career victories inside the first round.
Alhassan can be a bit reckless in pursuit of the finish and can over-exert himself too, so Malkoun potentially could try to tire him out, but I think he’ll struggle to weather the early storm and will become another first round victim on his opponent’s resume.
Prediction: Abdul Razak Alhassan to win by KO in Rd1.
UFC on ESPN: Whittaker vs. Gastelum Prelims
(Predicted winners in bold)
Tracy Cortez vs. Justine Kish
Jessica Penne vs. Loopy Godinez
Alexander Romanov vs. Juan Espino
Gerald Meerschaert vs. Bartosz Fabinski
Zarah Fairn dos Santos vs. Josiane Nunes
Tony Gravely vs. Anthony Birchak
Ross Cole is one of the most prolific mixed martial arts writers in the world, having written more than 17,000 MMA news stories for MMA Insight, which he founded in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts, and reaching millions of die-hard MMA fans in the process.
You can read more of Ross’s work at MMAInsight.com.