clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UFC Vegas 24 predictions

New, comments

This makes it two weeks in a row now that we have fight nights headlined by middleweight contenders and yet somehow it doesn’t feel like any of the four participants are guaranteed a title shot no matter what happens.

Marvin Vettori wrestled his way a decision win over Kevin Holland last week and this Saturday Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum get to make their case to challenge champion Israel Adesanya when they face off in the UFC Vegas 24 main event. Waiting in the wings is an injured Darren Till, who could emerge as the favorite given that Vettori, Whittaker, and Gastelum have already fought Adesanya. Plus, Adesanya has mentioned Till as a preferred challenger in the past.

Whittaker holds a recent win over Till, and if he can put away Gastelum in impressive fashion, it should be enough to put him in pole position, but there’s no telling what the matchmakers are thinking. And if Gastelum can upset Whittaker, will he earn a championship rematch or find himself tangled up in the contender rankings with his friend and training partner Vettori? One gets the sense that we’ll have to wait a while to get an answer even after this four-man field resolves itself.

In other main card action, Jeremy Stephens returns to the lightweight division for the first time in over eight years when he takes on Drakkar Klose in the co-main event, former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski steps in as a short-notice replacement to fight Chase Sherman, middleweights Abdul Razak Alhassan and Jacob Malkoun look to rebound from fast knockout losses, and Luis Pena meets Alex Munoz in a lightweight bout.

What: UFC Vegas 24

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, April 17. The entire event airs on ESPN and ESPN+, beginning with a six-fight preliminary card at 7 p.m. ET, and followed by the five-fight main card at 10 p.m. ET.

Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum

Kelvin Gastelum is a headache for anyone at 185 pounds and on his best day, I can see him beating pretty much anyone in the division. He took Israel Adesanya to the limit and it would be foolish to assume he can’t do the same with Robert Whittaker. But until proven otherwise, “The Reaper” is the second-best middleweight in the world.

For Gastelum to take that crown, his striking will have to be sharper than ever. He’s an excellent boxer with great hand speed and cardio for days, but I’ll always favor the versatility of Whittaker. The former champion has the gift of being able to do damage from a variety of unorthodox angles and when he’s cooking, few can match him. I give the standup advantage to Whittaker by a fair margin.

When it comes to the wrestling, Gastelum hasn’t really been able to assert himself in that department as a middleweight. He routinely gives up size to his opponents, though that’s not as much of an issue with Whittaker, another converted welterweight. Whittaker has improved as a wrestler every year, so we’ll see how much his takedown defense is tested Saturday.

I predict this one stays on the feet for the most part, which is a scenario that goes Whittaker’s way nine times out of 10. Whittaker by decision.

Pick: Whittaker

Jeremy Stephens vs. Drakkar Klosecancelled due to Klose injury

This is a smart matchup for Jeremy Stephens’ return to the lightweight division. Drakkar Klose is not a massive 155er, so while he’ll have a grappling advantage, it won’t be as pronounced as it would be if Stephens were facing a larger opponent in this weight class.

That gives Stephens a good chance to keep this one standing, where he has excelled for years. No, the roll of the dice has not gone Stephen’s way in his recent outings and he has technical limitations that have been exploited by a newer generation of fighters. He is what he is at this point. But what he is is someone who punches extremely hard.

Klose’s team will have that scouted, so it’s simply a matter of executing come fight night. Head movement, leg kicks, clinch work, these are the keys to Klose not getting added to Stephens’ highlight reel. Outside of his recent loss to Beneil Dariush, he’s shown a strong chin, which he’ll need to withstand an opening salvo from Stephens.

How much does Stephens have left in the tank and how long will it take him to land a bomb on Klose? Will this slump he’s in push him to a vintage performance or will he struggle to get out of the gate? I think he still has good performances ahead of him, but I see Klose as the better fighter this weekend and have him winning a decision.

Pick: Klose

Andrei Arlovski vs. Chase Sherman

Chase Sherman isn’t a world beater by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s a confident striker and he’ll respect Andrei Arlovski without being deferential. A lot of fighters have made the mistake of letting Arlovski dictate the pace, despite the fact that it’s been almost six years since his last knockout. That is not a typo.

True, Arlovski doesn’t need to finish Sherman to get a win here. He has recent wins over Tanner Boser, Philipe Lins, and Ben Rothwell, all fighters who I’d probably favor over Sherman. But there’s something about Sherman’s aggressive style that I like. He’s a risk taker and I believe if he takes some big swings against Arlovski, it will pay off.

Arlovski is in great shape at 42 years old, so he won’t be overwhelmed by Sherman in the athleticism department. I just wonder how much his capacity to pull the trigger diminishes with every outing. Sherman should invite Arlovski to brawl with him and chase a finish because if he does that, he’ll find it in the first or second round.

Pick: Sherman

Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Jacob Malkoun

I’m not sure who Jacob Malkoun crossed to keep getting matched up against a pair of powerful and explosive strikers in his first two UFC fights, but here we are. Malkoun lasted just 18 seconds against Phil Hawes in his UFC debut six months ago and now he has to navigate the fistic fury of Abdul Razak Alhassan.

From what we know of Malkoun, he’s dabbled in all kinds of combat sports from grappling to boxing to MMA. We didn’t get to see any of that in his UFC debut as he was just completely out blown out by Hawes. Maybe he can blend his skills together to neutralize Alhassan, or even surprise everyone with a quick strike finish of his own given that Alhassan is coming off of a 30-second KO loss.

Even considering the possibility that Malkoun could be a diamond in the rough, I’m still struggling to understand why he’s being put in the sights of another knockout artist after what happened last time.

Alhassan by first-round knockout. Let’s just move on.

Pick: Alhassan

Luis Pena vs. Alex Munoz

Alex Munoz is a classic jack of all trades, master of none. He showed off his boxing and wrestling in a respectable if unspectacular UFC debut loss to Nasrat Haqparast. This has the potential to be a trap game for Pena, who theoretically is being given a tune-up fight after suffering the first submission loss of his career last June.

The long and lanky Pena will have to be careful not give his neck up Munoz, but other than that he shouldn’t shy away from grappling with his shorter opponent. If anything, it will be important for Pena not to sit back and wait for Munoz to come to him as he’s still working on making the most of his physical gifts. A well-rounded opponent like Munoz could expose Pena if he isn’t careful.

A 10-month break might be just what the doctor ordered for Pena and I expect him to be rejuvenated in his first fight of 2021. I thought trying to drop down to 145 pounds a couple of years ago was a mistake and the kind of thing that only distracted him from improving in areas where it mattered most. Now that he’s settled back in at 155 pounds, it’s winning time.

I’m picking Pena to make a statement here, finishing Munoz by submission in the first round after hurting him on the feet.

Pick: Pena


Tracy Cortez def. Justine Kish

Alexander Romanov def. Juan Espino

Lupita Godinez def. Jessica Penne

Gerald Meerschaert def. Bartosz Fabinski

Austin Hubbard def. Dakota Bush

Tony Gravely def. Anthony Birchak