09 Feb - 
UFC 234: Whittaker vs. Gastelum staff predictions

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC 234: Whittaker vs. Gastelum card in Melbourne, Australia.

The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for UFC 234, and it is a clean sweep for Robert Whittaker to defend his middleweight title by beating Kelvin Gastelum, while everyone is backing Israel Adesanya over Anderson Silva in the co-main event. In other words, congrats to Gastelum and Silva on their wins on Saturday.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum

Anton Tabuena: Two former welterweights fighting for the middleweight belt. Will this convince people that extreme weight cutting really isn’t worth the trade off in performance? Probably not, but this should be an entertaining bout either way at least. I think this will be even closer than what the odds say, but I believe Whittaker is just slightly better just about everywhere, so he should take this. Robert Whittaker by decision.

Mookie Alexander: Gastelum absolutely has a chance here. He’s got powerful hands, insane durability -- not that Whittaker’s durability is to be scoffed at by any means -- and excellent cardio. But he’s not going to be able to take Whittaker down (or at least hold him there), and Whittaker has way more depth to his offensive striking. His leg kicks in particular can slow Gastelum down, and I think he cuts better angles and mixes up his strike selection and targets more effectively than Kelvin. It’ll be a close battle through the opening couple of rounds but Whittaker will come on strong in the later rounds and get the win. Robert Whittaker by unanimous decision.

Shakiel Mahjouri: What fascinates me about this fight is Whittaker and Gastelum are arguably two of the middleweight division’s most unappreciated fighters, despite their immense talent and success. Whittaker is a complete and constantly evolving mixed martial artist. They called him a boxer before a thudding head kick added Jacare’s head to his trophy collection. They called him a kickboxer before he fended off Olympic wrestling monster Yoel Romero across 10 rounds. Do not be surprised if he flips the script and takes Gastelum down in this fight, it’s just the kind of guy Whittaker is. Gastelum has just about all the tools it takes to give Whittaker problems. He shows phenomenal growth from fight-to-fight and has crisp powerful boxing to compliment his strong grappling game. Whittaker has thus far been the more impressive fighter and I am not prepared to bet against the champion, despite his poor taste in video games (I’m looking at you Fallout 76). Robert Whittaker by TKO, round 4.

Zane Simon: Gastelum is tough enough and his cardio decent enough that I think he can go the distance with Whittaker. I just don’t think his offense is varied enough to win rounds. I expect him to do well early when his speed will still come as a shock. But once Whittaker adjusts to that, he should be able to slip the 1-2 and counter with his own punches, and to chain together combinations as Gastelum is a much better pressure threat than he is off the counter. Robert Whittaker by decision

Staff picking Whittaker: Nick, Shak, Phil, Fraser, Anton, Mookie, Harry, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Gastelum:

Israel Adesanya vs. Anderson Silva

Anton Tabuena: For all the talk about Adesanya being a “clone” or better version of Silva, I just hope they don’t clown around and stare at each other for 15 minutes. Silva can surprise Adesanya (and a lot of pundits) by landing some good shots early, but I doubt he can do enough to actually win this. In fact, I think Adesanya just runs through him the moment he chooses to step on the gas pedal. It is 2019 after all, and Silva is already 43-years-old. Apart from a disputed decision against Brunson, Silva hasn’t had a proper win in almost seven years. I don’t expect that to change now. Adesanya by brutal and depressing TKO.

Mookie Alexander: Your heroes get old. Israel Adesanya by whatever he wants.

Shakiel Mahjouri: I am no mixed martial artist and I am no analyst, so let us stick to the facts. Silva is the most decorated fighter Adesanya has faced. SIlva is the most experienced fighter Adesanya has faced. Silva is the most talented striker Adesanya has faced in mixed martial arts. Unfortunately, time always wins and Silva has not looked like the killer of old in quite some time (except for that wicked knee against Michael Bisping). Furthermore, it is hard to lend too much weight to Silva’s experience edge when he has sat out most of 2017 and all of 2018. The safe bet is “The Stylebender” via earth, wind, fire, or water, whatever sort of bending he prefers. Israel Adesanya by TKO, round 2.

Fraser Coffeen: So within a few weeks of each other I get to see both Fedor and Anderson humiliated? That’s just great MMA. Israel Adesanya, KO R1

Zane Simon: I’m not necessarily sure that Adesanya just KO’s Silva. Silva has been fighting much safer lately. The problem is that he’s just not putting out much offense. His moments of extremely dangerous accurate striking have grown fewer and fewer and, less and less dangerous. If Silva doesn’t get reckless, Adesanya likely just outworks him to a somewhat lopsided decision loss. If he does get reckless, then there’s a good chance Adesanya puts him away. Israel Adesanya by decision.

Staff picking Adesanya: Nick, Shak, Phil, Fraser, Anton, Mookie, Harry, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Silva:

Rani Yahya vs. Ricky Simon

Anton Tabuena: Man, this is really a boxing style PPV, as the talent and name value just drops significantly after the top two bouts. Anyway, I guess the vet in Yahya can pull this off. Rani Yahya by decision.

Mookie Alexander: I just get a Joe Soto vibe out of this fight. Simon fights at an even faster pace, is a pretty good wrestler, and while he may get himself caught in a scramble, I think he’ll be able to tire Yahya out and outstrike him as the fight progresses. Ricky Simon by unanimous decision.

Shakiel Mahjouri: Rani Yahya does not get the credit he deserves and I would argue he deserves a more highly-ranked opponent than Ricky Simon. The soft-spoken Brazilian is an ADCC gold medalist and has won seven of his last eight UFC fights with three consecutive submissions. Yahya has shared the cage with the likes of Joseph Benavidez, Kid Yamamoto, Chad Mendes, Eddie Wineland, and Takeya Mizugaki in his 17 year professional career. Simon is two-for-two inside the Octagon, but not without controversy. He won a unanimous decision over Montel Jackson in his sophomore UFC effort. His technical submission win over Merab Dvalishvili occured at 5:00 of round 3 in a fight he was arguably losing. Whatsmore, there is still debate over whether or not Dvalishvili was truly unconscious. Yahya is too talented, too experienced, and too tough for SImon. ‘Nuff said. Rani Yahya by submission, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: I’ve enjoyed Yahya’s miniature Maia renaissance. However, like Maia he tends to have a commonality to his losses: powerful, skilled wrestlers. Simon isn’t overly large and isn’t exactly error free on the floor, but he keeps a crazy pace and I think he’ll just stay active on the feet and stuff takedowns. Ricky Simon by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I’m just not at all convinced with what I’ve seen from Simon as a defensive fighter, whether it’s wrestling, grappling, or striking. He’s a wild man going forward, but on the back foot he’s wide open. If Yahya just runs out of the gate and starts pushing takedowns, will Simon stay up and stay safe in the scramble? My gut says no. Rani Yahya by submission, Round 2.

Staff picking Yahya: Shak, Anton, Harry, Zane
Staff picking Simon: Nick, Phil, Fraser, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie

Montana De La Rosa vs. Nadia Kassem

Mookie Alexander: Kassem is a raw, physical talent but she’s not more skilled than De La Rosa. I think this is a pretty clear-cut result unless Kassem has shown substantial improvement from her win vs. Alex Chambers. Montana De La Rosa by submission, round 2.

Shakiel Mahjouri: Sometimes you need to vote with your heart and Montana De La Rosa is just too likeable to root against. She also has 13 pro-fights against the undefeated Nadia Kassem (6-0). Kassem likely has the striking advantage in this fight, but De La Rosa will likely use her grappling prowess for her fourth consecutive submission win against the hometown fighter. Montana De La Rose by submission, round 3.

Phil Mackenzie: This is a terrible fight which shouldn’t be anywhere near a PPV main card. De La Rosa is bigger, has a more structured striking game, and is a better grappler. Both women are extremely young and thus could show shocking improvements from fight to fight, but largely this figures to be scrappy and messy and meaningless. Montana De La Rosa by submission, round 2.

Zane Simon: MDLR just seems like she’s a little better everywhere. Much more structured and technical standing. Just as aggressive and likely better schooled on the mat, and a better athlete in better condition who has fought better competition. Montana De La Rosa by Submission, round 1.

Staff picking De La Rosa: Nick, Shak, Fraser, Phil, Anton, Mookie, Harry, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Kassem:

Jim Crute vs. Sam Alvey

Mookie Alexander: Egad. Jim Crute by split decision.

Shakiel Mahjouri: I love weird, quirky people and nothing screams weird likely shaving a smiley face into your hair or tanning a sponsor’s logo onto your chest. Both Alvey’s strengths and limitations were exposed in his last fight vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. The man is patient and hits like a mule, but he does not show the sort of versatility and gameplanning to hang in their with the best. That is sort of crazy to think considering Alvey has 44 professional fights under his belt. Jim Crute is only 9-0, but back-to-back finishes of Chris Birchler and Paul Craig shows me he has serious potential in the open wasteland that is 205. Crute can prove to be a real prospect with a win over Alvey and I think he gets it done in a hard fought fight. Jim Crute by split decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Crute didn’t look good at all against Paul Craig, and pretty much won by getting less tired. Alvey is fairly hard to take down and has a determined one-track game so he’s a tough style match up on paper... but he also just got dusted by Lil’ Nog in the year of our lord 2018, and he’s sort of starting to look like he’s forgetting how to win. Egh, I can’t do it. Crute is just too defensively porous. Sam Alvey by TKO, round 1.

Zane Simon: Crute is much more varied, but he’s really not very experienced and I didn’t see much I liked in his win over Paul Craig beyond his willingness to scrap and ability to scramble. Alvey’s not going to play that game, and isn’t that easy to take down. If Crute is going to just march after him looking for a brawl, he’s likely going to get picked off by counter shots. If Alvey can’t hurt him, then Crute may win just by sheer will, but that still feels like a tossup. Sam Alvey via TKO, Round 1.

Staff picking Crute: Shak, Phil, Anton, Mookie, Harry
Staff picking Alvey: Nick, Fraser, Dayne, Zane, Stephie

Devonte Smith vs. Dong Hyun Ma (formerly “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim)

Mookie Alexander: I’m pretty high on Devonte Smith as a rising prospect. Fast hands, powerful striking, multiple ways to knock you out. I think he’s going to be too much for Ma to handle. Devonte Smith by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: For compelling, competitive fights this is one of the few on the card. Maestro has put together a nice three fight streak, capped with a win over Damien Brown. Devonte Smith is a little harder to pin down- he’s polished off relatively low-level competition with ease, but it remains harder to tell how he deals with quality opposition that stand up to his shots. Ma is the lesser athlete, but has a reach advantage and unlike Smith’s prior opponent Erosa he can actually use it in a meaningful way. However, he’s also showing decreased offense as his defense has improved, falling in love with a sporadic jab and circle approach. I’ll take Smith, he’s already shown an impressive knack for fighting as well as physical gifts, and he’s now training full-time at Factory X. Devonte Smith by TKO, round 2.

Zane Simon: ‘Maestro’ Kim has slowly become a much more cautious fighter after suffering two brutal KO’s early in his UFC run. On the one hand, it’s won him some fights, but on the other it’s taken a lot of the danger out of his game and meant that he’s often fought down to the level of mediocre competition. Smith may not have a deep, nuanced game, but he’s exactly the kind of athlete that’s been able to beat Maestro before without one. Smith’s speed will likely force the firefight that Kim no longer wants to have and I expect it’ll probably beat him there too. Devonte Smith via KO, round 1.

Staff picking Smith: Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Ma: Fraser, Anton, Harry

Shane Young vs. Austin Arnett

Phil Mackenzie: Austin Arnett is a Sikjitsu striker. Sikjitsu do not train good strikers. Shane Young is a decently well-rounded, timing-based fighter in the Kyle Bochniak mould who had the misfortune to face one of featherweight’s wrecking machines in his debut, but he’s an accurate, clean kickboxer and can likely hit well-timed takedowns on Arnett, who hasn’t shown much more than toughness and aggression. Shane Young by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Young’s pitter-pat kickboxing style is rock solid for winning round as he mixes in occasional hard strikes and backs it up with the kind of toughness to ride out trouble. Volkanovski showed he can be pushed off that game, but by a level of fighter that Arnett definitely is not. Arnett’s own offense tends to be predicated on one-at-a-time power shots and a shocking level of defensive porousness. None of which should stand up well if Young just keeps the pressure on and the volume high. Shane Young via decision.

Staff picking Young: Nick, Phil, Shak, Fraser, Anton, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Arnett: Harry

Kai Kara-France vs. Raulian Paiva

Anton Tabuena: I got to watch Kai-Kara France live in Hong Kong back in Legend FC, when he was still a 19-year-old kid with a 1-2 pro MMA record. Now 25 with a UFC debut under his belt, it has been interesting to see how much his game has grown since then. I think he beats Paiva and extends this pretty lengthy win streak that he’s on now.

Phil Mackenzie: Kai-Kara France comes to us off a great fight with Elias Garcia. Paiva is aggressive and keeps a good pace, so the fight itself should be interesting, but France has more pop in his fists and is the rare flyweight who can deal serious damage from top position. Kai-Kara France by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I’m just not that sold on Kara-France. He’s got some decent pop in his hands, and can do some good work in the grappling department when he can control the scramble. But I’ve seen him get out-wrestled just as easily, and he doesn’t seem to have a real systematic striking game. He just throws lots of power shots without setup. I think this fight could easily be brutally close, and something tells me that Paiva’s size and scrambling ability will give Kara-France fits. I’ll take the flyer on Raulian Paiva by split decision.

Staff picking France: Nick, Phil, Shak, Fraser, Anton, Mookie, Harry, Dayne, Stephie
Staff picking Paiva: Zane

Teruto Ishihara vs. Kyung Ho Kang

Anton Tabuena: These are two large bantamweights from Asia, and I think the Korean is just the superior grappler. Kyung Ho Kang by submission.

Phil Mackenzie: Ishihara has made some improvements in his wrestling, grappling and cardio at Team Alpha Male Japan, but largely remains the same fighter that he was: he has a big left hand and runs out of ideas quickly. Kang is defensively porous enough that he could get plunked, but he’s also just a way better wrestler and grappler and frankly probably a better striker as well. Kyung Ho Kang by submission, round 3.

Zane Simon: With his move down to bantamweight, Ishihara has sacrificed his biggest advantage in the cage, his speed. Now everyone is as fast as he is, and he has to rely on finding one-shot counters that are going to be less and less surprising to a group of fighters fast enough to see them coming. He’s otherwise still too easy to drive backwards and grind and takedown. And Kyung Ho Kang is a very good wrestler and scrambler and his only TKO loss was by soccer kicks, years ago. If Ishihara can’t put him out, it’s really hard to see him winning a decision. Kyung Ho Kang by decision.

Staff picking Ishihara: Harry
Staff picking Kang: Nick, Phil, Shak, Fraser, Anton, Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie

Lando Vannata vs. Marcos Rosa

Phil Mackenzie: Vannata looked somewhat bad in his last fight. Moving away from Jackson-Wink hasn’t made him any more fundamental, and has instead removed that special ability that the gym has to instil confidence in their fighters. If he can’t obliterate people with weird stuff early, and doesn’t possess the deep technical game or cardio to go late, he ends up stuck in a nasty dilemma, and it seems to be sapping his self-belief. Rosa is himself a fan of throwing spinning shit, but he lacks Vannata’s innate athleticism and in particular his underrated and crushing punching power. Lando Vannata by TKO, round 1.

Zane Simon: Rosa is huge, but having a defensively-open, low-volume, kickboxing game without any real wrestling or grappling to back it up just is not a good competitive skillset for high level MMA. Vannata has plenty of his own struggles with pacing and defense, but they’re not that bad. Lando Vannata by submission, round 1.

Staff picking Vannata: Nick, Phil, Shak, Fraser, Anton, Mookie, Harry, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Rosa:

Jalin Turner vs. Callan Potter

Phil Mackenzie: Is Jalin Turner seriously going back to lightweight? He’s even bigger than James Vick, and came in as a huge welterweight who was visibly bigger than not-small-welterweight Vicente Luque! How on earth is he making 155?! Potter is a regional-level grappler who is going to get hideously murked. This will look like old-school Rumble, I guess. Jalin Turner by TKO, round 1.

Zane Simon: Turner is a huge, rangy sniper who is good at potshotting even if he’s not ready for deft power punchers like Vicente Luque. Potter is a tough regional vet who likes to walk people down and control them on the cage and seems tailor made to walk into Turner’s long strikes. Jalin Turner via KO, round 1.

Staff picking Turner: Nick, Phil, Shak, Fraser, Anton, Mookie, Harry, Dayne, Zane, Stephie
Staff picking Potter:

Wuliji Buren vs. Jonathan Martinez

Anton Tabuena: Of all the Chinese fighters on the UFC roster, I think Buren is one of the least likely to find success. Jonathan Martinez by submission.

Phil Mackenzie: Low-end bantamweights. Martinez is a kick-grappler, who pulls guard. Buren showed a decent pressure game last time out against Chito Vera, although he was unable to maintain it, and that’s traditionally tough for fighters like Martinez to deal with. Martinez is bigger, more dynamic and more likely to find a finish, but Wuliji Buren by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Buren: Fraser, Phil, Harry, Dayne
Staff picking Martinez: Nick, Shak, Anton, Mookie, Zane, Stephie