After 429 days as champion, Robert Whittaker is finally set to make his first title defense.
Of 72 champions in UFC history, only Anthony Pettis and Conor McGregor have ever held a UFC title for longer before attempting their first defense. It should be noted that this is hardly the Australian’s fault- Whittaker would have already notched a successful title defense if it weren’t for his opponent Yoel Romero missing weight and thus becoming ineligible to fight for the title.
On Saturday, Whittaker (20-4 MMA, 11-2 UFC) will face Kelvin Gastelum (15-3 MMA, 10-3 UFC) for the UFC middleweight championship.
The two men coached opposite each other last year on The Ultimate Fighter 28– the first time a regular season of TUF was coached by two previous TUF winners (Gastelum winning TUF 17 and Robert Whittaker winning TUF: The Smashes). This had already happened on the Latin America version of the show, with season 2 being coached by Gastelum and Efrain Escudero (TUF 8 winner).
Let’s take a look at the last three results of the two men in Saturday night’s main event:
In 2017, Whittaker followed a second-round TKO victory over Ronaldo Souza with a unanimous decision victory over Yoel Romero, becoming the interim UFC middleweight champion after the latter result. After being promoted to undisputed champion, Whittaker faced Romero once more in a rematch, getting the nod in a split-decision victory that 15 out of 28 polled media members disagreed with.
Both of Whittaker’s outings against Romero earned that event’s Fight of the Night award, with the latter being named some outlet’s 2018 Fight of the Year.
Gastelum rebounded from a third-round submission loss against Chris Weidman with a victory against another former UFC middleweight champion, Michael Bisping, via first-round KO. Upon returning to action last May, Gastelum defeated Ronaldo Souza in a back-and-forth three-round split decision.
Of all The Ultimate Fighter winners who have met in the Octagon, none have been separated by more than the 14 season gap between Bisping (season 3) and Gastelum (season 17).
Here’s a look at how these two fighters fared when competing against common opponents shared throughout their careers. On the left of the graphic, you’ll see how Whittaker fared against any shared opponents and on the right, you’ll see Gastelum’s results against the same men.
The two men share two common opponents; Uriah Hall and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza.
Whittaker scored a unanimous decision victory over Hall in November 2015, whilst Gastelum had to settle for a split-decision win back in April 2013. Gastelum earned a Fight of the Night award after his split-decision win over Jacare last May, whilst Whittaker defeated the Brazilian via TKO in 2017.
The Dwyer Score
Each event, I calculate a ‘Dwyer Score’ for the card. It essentially gives a numeric value to the momentum of fighters competing at any one event. I do this by assigning a figure to each fighter’s current streak; a fighter on a five-fight winning streak contributes +5 to an event’s score, whilst a fighter on a two-fight losing streak contributes -2 to the score. Only UFC results are considered and a fighter coming off a no-contest, a draw, or a bout with another promotion has a streak of 0. When you tally up the scores for every fighter on a card, you get a total for the event- the ‘Dwyer Score.’ This score does not claim to predict or measure the quality or excitement of any one card, but it does give you an idea of the general momentum of fighters heading into a specific event. The graphic to the above-right displays some of the highest-scoring events of all time, to help give some context to this score.
UFC 234: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum posts a strong score of +24.
This score ranks 5th out of all 38 events in the last year, and 4th out of 13 Pay-Per-View events in the same period.
Here’s a look at how this score compares to other events’ scores over the past year:
As you can see, this score far exceeds the +11.1 average for all events in the last year, as well as the +18.8 average for Pay-Per-View events in the same time frame.
Let’s take a look at exactly how this score breaks down:
The highest individual contributor to the score is Robert Whittaker (+9), ahead of Israel Adesanya (+4). Alongside Thiago Santos, Adesanya recorded the most UFC victories in the whole of 2018 (4).
The lowest scorers are Teruto Ishihara and Wuliji Buren (both -2), whilst three fighters will be making their promotional debuts on this card.
Enjoy the fights!