UFC 234: Analysis and Predictions

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UFC 234 takes place in Melbourne, Australia and is headlined by the middleweight championship bout betweeen Australia’s own Robert Whittaker and the American Kelvin Gastelum.  I’ll be honest, this is a pretty bad card, particularly for a PPV. Only 5 of the 24 fighters on this card are ranked, and the co-main event between Adesanya and Silva is gross mismatch.  That said, there are a few interesting matchups, and often times the seemingly bad cards are the ones that end up being the most entertaining.

Robert Whittaker (Champion) (20-4) (-245) vs Kelvin Gastelum (#4 Ranked) (15-3) (+205)

Middleweight Championship

The headliner for this PPV is an interesting matchup between champion Robert Whittaker and challenger Kelvin Gastelum in the stacked UFC middleweight division.  This fight comes on the heels of Whittaker and Gastelum coaching the most recent season of the Ultimate Fighter.  Gastelum earned this fight with a win over Jacare at UFC 224 in May of last year.

Robert Whittaker has been incredibly impressive since making the move to middleweight.  Two consecutive victories over Yoel Romero, one of the most terrifying fighters active today, has cemented him as an absolute force at 185.  He’s a rangy striker who does a great job of using kicks and footwork to damage opponents from far outside, while avoiding being hit himself.  This is going to be particularly important against Gastelum who is primarily an inside striker.

Kelvin Gastelum is a mirror image of Whittaker in the sense that he’s a fighter who struggled with weight at welterweight, ultimately moved up to middleweight after several fights, and suddenly found himself a renewed and far more durable fighter.  He’s a fast and powerful puncher who likes to fight at close range where he can typically beat opponents in a war of attrition. 

Robert Whittaker is certainly the favorite in this fight for good reason.  He should be able to keep this fight at distance and pick apart Gastelum.  In many ways this fight could end up looking similar to the Yoel Romero fights, with Whittaker staying at range, landing big with kicks, but occasionally succumbing to a fast blitz from Gastelum.  That being said, this is a fight where Gastelum absolutely has the ability to pull off the upset.  It’s just a question of whether or not he can close distance effectively enough. 

All things being equal though, I think Robert Whittaker takes care of business and continues to land at range until Gastelum really starts to wear down in the later rounds.  Gastelum has always had a questionable gas tank, and the longer this fight goes, the more problematic it becomes for him.

 Whittaker by 4th Round TKO

  

Israel Adesanya (#6 Ranked) (15-0) (-650) vs Anderson Silva (Unranked) (34-8) (+475)

Middleweight

Anderson Silva makes his long awaited return to the Octagon against fast rising star Israel Adesanya in a bout that many see as problematic comeback fight for The Spider.

For those of you that haven’t been watching the sport for very long, Anderson Silva is one of the greatest mix martial artists of all time.  His middleweight title reign is one of the most dominant in the history of the sport.  Unfortunately, this reign ended over 5 years ago, and since that point, it’s been a consistent downhill slide for The Spider.  Anderson Silva is 1-4-1 in his last 6 outings.  He is 43 years old.  In the last 5 years he has been through multiple PED suspensions, a gruesome compound fracture to his leg, and a gall bladder surgery.  Watching his fights it seems clear that Silva is a shadow of his former self.  This is really concerning considering the level of opponent he’s up against.

Israel Adesanya has been absolutely on fire since making the transition to MMA.  He is a former Glory Kickboxing world champion with a combined record of 75-5.  He is 15-0 in MMA and has continued to look better and better as he has matured as a mixed martial artist.  His last win was a 1st round drubbing of Derek Brunson where he showcased just how advanced he is as a striker.  He’s fast, powerful, and accurate. 

I know Anderson Silva wanted this fight, but I’m still somewhat surprised the UFC put it together.  I’m guessing the idea here is that this is a good way to springboard Adesanaya into superstardom.  The UFC realizes Silva’s time with the promotion is coming to an end, so they don’t care too much if he gets steamrolled by younger competition.  And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

This fight is going to essentially be Anderson Silva fighting a clone of himself who is 10 years younger.  There is no question Silva still has technique and power, but he is much slower, and has a far weaker chin than he did in his younger years.  Adesanya is going to absolutely pick him apart on the feet and this fight will be over inside the 1st round.

 Adesanaya by 1st Round TKO

 

Rani Yahya (#15 Ranked) (26-9) (+105) vs Ricky Simon (Unranked) (14-1) (-125)

Bantamweight

Two bantamweight fighters with long winning streaks put their records on the line in a fight that will substantially improve their ranking in the division.  This isn’t a fight with a lot of hype around it, but I think it’s a pretty intriguing matchup.  It will be interesting to see how a young prospect like Simon deals with a grappler as dominant as Yahya.

Rani Yahya is probably the most experienced UFC veteran that you’ve never heard of.  He has 15 fights with the UFC going back to 2011.  This doesn’t include an additional 5 fights he did with the WEC prior to the UFC buyout.  He’s 7-1-1 since making the return to bantamweight.  At the age of 34 and with 35 fights under his belt it’s pretty safe to say that Yahya is a known quantity at this stage.  He has 0 wins by KO/TKO and 20 wins by submission.  He’s a talented grappler who will try to get the fight to the ground and use his high level Jiu-Jitsu to lock in a submission.

This will be Ricky Simon’s 3rd fight in the UFC and he is 14-1 as a pro.  At 26 he is a young fighter who seemingly still has a lot of room to grow in the sport.  5 of his wins have come via TKO and 2 are submission victories. 

Thus far in his UFC career Ricky Simon has fought fellow newbies trying to get a foothold in the UFC.  The fight with Yahya is a pretty big step up in competition for him and it’s going to be interesting to see how he performs.  Historically, Simon has depended on a balanced approach of striking and grappling to take advantage of what opportunities his opponents presents.  The challenge in this fight will be that Yahya’s grappling is going to be on another level, and unless he can establish dominance on the feet, Simon doesn’t have much of a chance.

I’m concerned that’s not going to happen for Simon.  As a younger fighter with a lot of confidence, I imagine he’s going to be happy to engage with Yahya in a grappling contest.  For example, I can see him diving for a guillotine choke off of a takedown attempt similar to the Dvalishvili fight, feeling confident in his submissions.  This is not going to end well for him.  An experience veteran like Yahya will know how to avoid the basic submissions, move to a dominant positions, and eventually sink in a sub.

 Yahya by 2nd Round Submission

  

Devonte Smith (Unranked) (9-1) (-235) vs Dong Hyum Kim (Ma) (Unranked) (16-8) (+195)

Lightweight

Devonte Smith vs Dong Hyum Kim is a fight between two lightweights on the outside edge of the rankings looking to break into the top 15.  Devonte Smith is a young prospect who has shown himself to have unbelievable power for a lightweight.  It will be interesting to see if he can keep his momentum going with a big win.

Devonte Smith seems to be a striker who can hit with a level of power that most lightweights don't expect.  8 of his wins have come by KO or TKO with 5 of those happening inside the first round.  In his last fight against Julian Erosa he delivered a KO with an almost effortless looking jab / cross combo.  This will be Smith's second fight inside the Octagon and I imagine that if he continues to put on performances like he has, the UFC will really start to put some big promotional effort behind him.   He's currently 25 years old and riding a 5 fight win streak. 

Dong Hyum Kim (Ma), not to be confused with the welterweight "Stun Gun" Dong Hyum Kim, is 3-2 in the UFC.  At 30 years old and with 24 professional bouts under his belt it seems as though we have a pretty good idea of what type of fighter he is.  He started his career primarily using a strong submission game, but over the past several years he has seemed more and more content to stand and trade.  While he certainly possesses knockout power, this is a fight where he needs to avoid brawling and fight smart.

In some ways this fight seems tailor made for Devonte Smith.  Kim is a capable striker, but his recent wins have come over older and weaker competition.  He's a fighter that has a tremendous amount of offensive weapons, but doesn't tend to defend well.  He’s not going to be ready for the speed and power that Smith is going to bring into this fight and I think it’s going to catch him off guard.  I feel like this fight is going to turn into a brawl and Smith will end up with another huge 1st round KO.

 Smith by 1st Round KO

  

Jim Crute (Unranked) (9-0) (+110) vs Sam Alvey (Unranked) (33-11) (-130)

Light Heavyweight

Sam Alvey steps in as a late replacement for Ryan Spann against Jim Crute at light-heavyweight.  With Alvey coming off a deflating  TKO loss to Rogerio Nogueira in September, this seems to be a real opportunity for Crute to boost his profile in the light-heavyweight division.

Jim Crute is a young up and comer who is sporting a flawless 9-0 record.  He made his way to the UFC through a TKO of Chris Birchler on Dana White’s Contender series.  He has since fought one more time in the promotion, getting a 3rd round submission over Paul Craig.  WIth a light-heavyweight division that’s in desperate need of young talent, there is no question the UFC would love to see Crute get a big win.

"Smile'n" Sam Alvey is a longtime veteran of the UFC with 16 fights inside the promotion.  It's almost shocking to think about the fact that he's only 32 years old, because it feels like we've been watching him fight for decades.  The reality is that Alvey is so recognizable because of how active he stays in the promotion, typically fighting 3 or 4 times a year.  While this is great for boosting name recognition, history has shown that it isn't a great formula for winning fights, and I'm worried Alvey is on the cusp of a pretty substantial downward slide.    Losing in September to a 42 year old Rogerio Nogueria is a concerning sign.

I feel like this fight is Crute's to lose.  He's going to have a major advantage in terms of speed and power.  He needs to use both his grappling and striking to keep a balanced attack while avoiding a brawl.  If he does this he should be able to land freely and setup himself up for an easy TKO in the 2nd round.

 Crute by 2nd Round TKO