Former undisputed UFC middleweight champion, Robert ‘The Reaper’ Whittaker returns to the Octagon and Stateside this weekend at UFC Vegas 24 — in a rescheduled pairing against one-time interim title challenger, Kelvin Gastelum, however, he’s certainly not overlooking the short-notice replacement.
Originally slated to meet with most recent title chaser, Paulo Costa at the UFC Apex facility event, the Brazilian was forced to withdraw from the matchup, citing a severe flu ahead of the clash. In his place stepped Kings MMA staple, Gastelum — in a reworked pairing following a cancelled UFC 234 headliner back in February of 2019.
Slated to defend his middleweight championship against Gastelum, Whittaker was forced to withdraw from proceedings on the day of the event, requiring emergency surgery after he had suffered a hernia and a collapsed and twisted bowl.
Removed from the card entirely, Gastelum would meet with Israel Adesanya for an interim championship in the co-main event of UFC 236 that April, suffering a unanimous decision loss in the 2019 Fight of the Year.
Finally drawing Gastelum this weekend in ‘Sin City’ — Whittaker broke down the headlining clash, and expects an “absolute war” to await him against the Californian.
“I’m hoping I can go out and dominate him (Kelvin Gastelum, right,” Whittaker said during a pre-fight media scrum. “But, I’m expecting an absolute war. Like you said, we’re both very well-rounded. He’s got dangerous power, he can wrestle, grapple — he’s tough as nails. I can do the same. It’s — yeah I expect the worse (and), hope for the best.”
Entering the contest, in what may prove to be a middleweight title-eliminator as both attempt to earn a rematch against current 185-pound pacesetter, the above-mentioned, Adesanya — Whittaker rides an eye-catching previous annum into the main event.
Featuring twice last year on ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi, UAE, the 30-year-old took home a July unanimous decision win over former welterweight title challenger, Darren Till, before clashing with Jared Cannonier in a rescheduled co-headliner at UFC 254 in October, scoring a second consecutive unanimous judging victory.
For San Jose native, Gastelum, the Rafael Cordeiro product enters the tie on just a month’s notice, having most recently featured just two months ago at UFC 258, snapping a three-fight losing skid with a unanimous decision victory over Ian Heinisch.