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Robert Whittaker has grown accustomed to others gunning for him. As the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder, it goes with the territory.
“Bobby Knuckles” will defend his 185-pound championship against The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC 234 headliner on Saturday at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. Meanwhile, the unbeaten Israel Adesanya puts his perfect 15-0 record on the line against former middleweight champion Anderson Silva in the three-round co-main event.
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Whittaker has momentum to spare. The 28-year-old blossomed into a fully formed pound-for-pound star and now finds himself on a career-best nine-fight winning streak. Whittaker last fought at UFC 225 in June, when he eked out a split decision over 2000 Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero in a rematch between two of the sport’s best at 185 pounds. He owns other notable victories against Ronaldo Souza, Derek Brunson, Uriah Hall and Brad Tavares.
Gastelum will enter the cage on the strength of consecutive wins over the aforementioned Souza and former champion Michael Bisping. Operating out of Kings MMA, he holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Brian Beaumont and has delivered 10 of his 15 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout, or submission. Gastelum’s list of victims includes Tim Kennedy, Jake Ellenberger, and Nate Marquardt.
UFC 234 “Whittaker vs. Gastelum” — which airs live on pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT — will also feature a bantamweight affair matching 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Rani Yahya with Ricky Simon, a lightweight clash pitting Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series alum Devonte Smith against Dong Hyun Ma and a light heavyweight battle pairing Team Quest’s Sam Alvey with Jim Crute. UFC Fight Pass (6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT) and ESPN (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) will share coverage of the seven-fight undercard.
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Taking a page out of the UFC’s playbook, Bellator MMA also turns its attention to the international market. Two-time lightweight tournament winner Patricky Freire will risk his four-fight winning streak when he confronts former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion Ryan Scope in the Bellator “Newcastle” headliner on Saturday at the Utilita Arena in Newcastle, England. DAZN will stream the event at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.