Best bets for UFC Fight Night: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum


We're likely to see some striking-friendly matchups on the main card this weekend, as the UFC tends to do when airing live on ESPN proper. Several matchups feature well-known UFC veterans, including two former champions.

Saturday's UFC Fight Night main event in Las Vegas is a rebooking of a title fight that never happened. The matchup between Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum had plenty of buildup in 2018, but Whittaker fell ill, opening door the door for Israel Adesanya to face Gastelum instead. With Adesanya winning the interim belt, each fighter took a different path, and we're finally going to see the original booking.

Prelims start at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+ and the main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+.

Odds are courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.

Middleweight main event: No. 1 Robert Whittaker (-260) vs. No. 8 Kelvin Gastelum (+210)

Tale Of The Tape

Last fight weight class Middleweight Middleweight
Age 30 29
Height 72 69
Reach 73.5 71.5
Stance Orthodox Southpaw
Analyzed minutes 209 221
Stand-up striking offense
Total knockdown ratio (scored:received) 10:6 9:5
Distance knockdown rate 2.4% 3.5%
Head jab accuracy 31% 37%
Head power accuracy 31% 31%
Total stand-up strike ratio 1.3 1.1
Striking defense
Total head strike defense 74% 71%
Distance knockdown defense ("Chin") 97% 98%
Wrestling and grappling
TD attempts per min standing/clinch 0.12 0.26
Takedown accuracy 27% 39%
Advances per takedown/top control 2.3 0.9
Opponent takedown attempts 63 71
Takedown defense 84% 65%
Share of total ground time in control 70% 50%
Submission attempts per trip to ground 0.00 0.05
Just as Gastelum has been falling short of expectations since his shot at Adesanya, Gastelum has quietly delivered since his own loss to the current champ. It would appear as if the two fighters are on opposite paths, but Gastelum rebounded just two months ago for his first win in nearly three years. And, at least on paper, the pairing still seems a competitive one between two elite middleweights still arguably in their prime.

The matchup will at least begin as a striking duel. Both men have good distance precision but only average striking defense, or worse. They average a striking similar pace and use a nearly identical mix of strikes by target (head, versus body or legs). But expect Whittaker to use more long-range kicks, while the normally undersized Gastelum will want to get close and box.

Overall, the two tend to deliver and absorb the same amount of significant strikes per minute while on their feet, and they've accumulated similar amounts of damage in their UFC careers. While Whittaker deserves a slight edge if he can keep it at long range, the matchup is closer than the odds would suggest.

There's also the X factor of Gastelum's wrestling. During his three-fight losing skid, he didn't land more than one takedown per fight. But in his recent win, he landed six total takedowns over three rounds and spent a significant portion of each round in positional control. That successful change in fight strategy might be a motivation for Gastelum to return to his roots as a wrestler.

The data is much closer than the market perception. Expect Whittaker to remain a strong favorite headed into fight night, meaning a 'dog or pass situation.

E+ recommends: A small play on a Gastelum upset is warranted at +200 or more. Over 1.5 rounds for parlays.

Best bets elsewhere on the card

The co-main event is a near pick 'em, despite veteran Jeremy Stephens (-120) opening as a clear favorite over Drakkar Klose (+100). It's hard to tell where this one lands, but the numbers agree with the market movement to date.

Both men are returning from lengthy layoffs, having both suffered knockouts roughly a year ago. In addition, Stephens is moving back to lightweight after a tough string of losses to top featherweight talent. There are some confounding factors here, but Klose is adept at securing decisions, while Stephens is not.

E+ recommends: Money line lean on Klose, as long as he's plus money.

For a grappling contest, look down the prelims at the middleweight matchup between Gerald Meerschaert (+115) and Bartosz Fabinski (-135). This is one is a stylistic contrast, but it's one that should take place at close range. Fabinski has been an aggressive wrestler, attempting takedowns early and often, landing at least six in each of his UFC wins. But his weakness appears to be submissions, which caught him in his two UFC losses to date.

Enter Meerschaert, owning 23 of his career wins by submission, including five of his UFC wins. If he's going to defeat an eager wrestler, that's likely how he gets it done.

E+ recommends: Prop play on Meerschaert by submission or inside the distance.