UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Gastelum goes down on Saturday night at the APEX Center, and sitting at the top of the bout sheet is an important middleweight bout that could see the next challenger for the belt emerge. No. 1 ranked contender Robert Whittaker is facing off against No. 8 ranked Kelvin Gastelum in a fight that should’ve happened a couple years ago, but circumstances prevented it. Now, through another series of unfortunate circumstances (Paulo Costa’s battle with COVID-19), we’re finally going to see these two throw some leather. At a time when middleweight is really starting to look promising, this contest is just the thing to get some clarity in the pecking order.
The rest of the card features some good prospect matches as well as longtime veterans battling for placement in the rankings. The co-main event is a perfect example of this. Jeremy Stephens has moved back to lightweight to face tough customer Drakkar Klose that might see the victor crack the Top 15. Alexandr Romanov will have a great dance partner in Juan Espino, one that also has a propensity for submissions. Tracy Cortez is making her third octagon appearance against Justine Kish and 22-year veteran Andrei Arlovski will be making his 35th UFC appearance when he takes on Chase Sherman.
We’ve selected four fighters from the event that will illustrate why they are worthy of their lofty or budget-conscious price tags in an effort to help you select your DraftKings fantasy MMA lineups. Let’s get started.
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Robert Whittaker, $9,100
Robert Whittaker has been surging with a pair of back-to-back wins since his devastating loss to Israel Adesanya in 2019. Both his fights with Darren Till and Jared Cannonier were testaments to his excellent striking and wrestling. He’ll be facing a Southpaw in Kelvin Gastelum, one with power and a solid wrestling game, so there’s definitely an element of intrigue around this contest. After going winless in 2019 and 2020, Gastelum was spiraling, having taken losses to Adesanya, Jack Hermansson and Darren Till. He finally picked up a win this past February when he took a unanimous decision over Ian Heinisch.
Gastelum does have his moments, but with an aggressive, powerful athlete like “Bobby Knuckles,” he needs to be more mindful towards defense. Gastelum relies entirely too much on his granite chin, and at some point, the foundation on that is going to start crumbling. Whittaker is just the person to test that theory, whether it be a high kick or devastating bomb. I also think Sir Knuckles is the more durable of the two down the stretch. Gastelum certainly has a great opportunity to upset the pretty heavy DraftKings Sportsbook favorite here, but the pricing is just fine by my reasoning.
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Abdul Razak Alhassan, $9,300
Abdul Razak Alhassan is a talented prospect with plenty of power and a developing understanding of how important takedown defense is, considering his two decision losses featured him getting taken down pretty much at will by both Omari Akhmedov and Mounir Lazzez. Hopefully, that understanding will lead him to be more mindful of his sprawl.
That said, his opponent, Jacob Malkoun, looks to be a rebound fight custom designed for Razak Alhassan to pick apart with that hard jab and absolute rocket right hand he has. “Mamba” is just 4-1, with all of his fights coming in tiny promotions. The one fight he has had inside the octagon was a knockout loss to Phil Hawes—no shame there since Hawes hits like a truck. If Malkoun is to have any hope here, it’s going to be spamming takedowns or with a surprise heater. The experience and talent advantages are also with Razak Alhassan. Pricing is more than justified here, in my humble opinion.
Drakkar Klose, $7,800
Drakkar Klose has an excellent chance to upset the applecart here. Jeremy Stephens may only be 34 years old, but there’s nearly two decades worth of experience in those 34 years. As a matter of fact, Stephens has been fighting for exactly half his life. He has 28 victories, some of them absolute wars, and 18 defeats, six of them being finishes. Historically, he has had a legendary chin, but even legends fade. In his last five fights (none of them wins), he’s been knocked out twice. He will be moving back up to lightweight after several years at 145, but at this stage of his career, that move might be too little too late.
Klose is a medium-output athlete with decent defensive wrestling and good, technical boxing. He’s not overly powerful, but he has his moments and he’s durable. He came close to knocking Beneil Dariush out in the second round, but alas, Dariush recovered and scored a sensational knockout of his own. That marked his second loss, but I still think he has more upside than Stephens, and even though their chronological ages may be pretty close, their “fight age” is not, with Stephens beginning to show all 17 years of his. This is about as well-matched a fight as you can get and would be a real feather in Klose’s cap if he can secure the win, but he’ll have a tough test with Stephens. I’m fairly confident he can get the job done. The pricing is perfect.
Chase Sherman, $7,700
Chase Sherman, at 32 years of age, is a full decade younger than his opponent, the legendary Andrei Arlovski, now in his 22nd year as a pro. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have even entertained the idea, but Arlovski is really showing his years these days, even finding himself on the wrong end of a submission from Tom Aspinall in his last contest, only the second one of his long career. Arlovski’s oft-lauded power hasn’t shown itself since in nearly six years, as all his victories are now decisions. Andrei is a crafty counter-striker and has built the latter half of his career off being excellent in that regard. Heck, it could even be argued that he’s always been above the norm in that regard.
And therein lies the problem with Sherman—he hits like a truck and has very little mind toward defense, so counter-strikes likely won’t make much difference unless there’s some serious pop behind them. Chase is the real-life encapsulation of a rock-em-sock-em robot, just coming forward, throwing all manner of haymaker and heat-seeker. And that might just be enough to get him through to the other side. Arlovski is a crafty veteran and still finds ways to grind out ugly wins, but with Chase’s insane output—a whopping 6.02 strikes landed per minute—“The Pitbull” may find himself unable to time those counters as effectively under the pressure of Sherman’s offense. The pricing here is fine, as Arlovski *should* get the victory by virtue of experience. I just happen to disagree.
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