On Feb. 9, the UFC goes down under for its first pay-per-view of 2019, as UFC 234 takes place at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. In the main event, middleweight champion Robert Whittaker defends his belt in front of his home fans against Kelvin Gastelum. The co-main is a middleweight battle between the rising star and an MMA icon, as undefeated Israel Adesanya squares off against former UFC champion Anderson Silva.
I won’t lie to you, this is not one of the UFC’s better pay-per-view offerings when you look at the full lineup. That said, the main event is an outstanding matchup that you should be eager to see, and Israel Adesanya is a must-watch talent. Before all the action kicks off on Saturday (or Sunday if you’re in Australia!), let’s take a brief look at some of the fighters on this card who could produce high scores for your DraftKings teams.
Robert Whittaker ($8,900) vs. Kelvin Gastelum ($7,300)
MiddleweightsEDITOR’S NOTE: Whittaker will not fight Gastelum due to a hernia in his abdomen.
Whittaker fought just once last year, winning a controversial split decision in a rematch against Yoel Romero in one of the best fights of 2018. That fight wasn’t for the title due to Romero missing weight, but the story was Whittaker surviving multiple knockdowns to win a thriller. He is still undefeated in nine fights at middleweights. Gastelum has bounced back from a submission loss to Chris Weidman by knocking out Michael Bisping, then squeaking past Ronaldo Souza in an entertaining split decision at UFC 224. Much like Whittaker, Gastelum is a dangerous striker.
This is a compelling showdown for the title that, primarily because of Whittaker’s otherworldly takedown defense, is not likely to see much time on the ground. Whittaker certainly is familiar with fighting southpaws, and Gastelum will be his latest. Both men have shown themselves to have great durability and are hard to finish, but I believe this boils down to Whittaker having much more depth to his offense striking than Gastelum, and Gastelum won’t be able to cope. When also considering that Gastelum is worse defensively, I think Whittaker will successfully defend his belt.
Number of Note: 200. Whittaker has out-landed his middleweight opponents by 200 significant strikes, and he has yet to be out-landed in any single fight.
Israel Adesanya ($9,600) vs. Anderson Silva ($6,600)
“The Last Stylebender” could be the UFC’s next superstar. Adesanya is 15-0 as a pro MMA fighter, including 4-0 inside the Octagon. Last November at UFC 230, Adesanya passed his toughest test with flying colors, as he stuffed Derek Brunson’s takedowns and picked him apart with his elite striking for the first-round TKO. While Adesanya may be the next big thing, Anderson Silva was once the UFC’s premier striker to watch. One of the most dominant MMA champions ever, Silva is 43 years old and while his last fight was a close win over Derek Brunson, it was also two years ago. Having started his UFC career 16-0, “The Spider” has just one win in his last six fights, albeit to high-level competition.
Its striker vs. striker, except one fighter is in the prime of his career and the other one is decidedly past it. Adesanya has accuracy, power and tremendous command of range. Silva has lost more than a step, and while he may have some moments in this one, Adesanya is going to methodically break the Brazilian legend down and get either a lopsided decision win or a stoppage.
Number of Note: 13. Adesanya has won 13 of his 15 pro fights by KO/TKO. Silva has only been stopped by strikes against Chris Weidman, but he has been knocked down three times over his previous four defeats.
Devonte Smith ($8,600) vs. Dong Hyun Ma ($7,600)
Smith signed with the UFC after winning on Dana White’s Contender Series with a quick KO of Joseph Lowry. “King Kage” then raised eyebrows with a 46-second thrashing of Julian Erosa at UFC Denver last November, making him a prospect to watch. Formerly known as “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim, the South Korean fighter was won his last three bouts, having most recently won a split decision over Damien Brown at UFC 221. His most recent loss was a classic war with Marco Polo Reyes at UFC 199, losing by third-round TKO in an amazing slugfest.
This could be one of the candidates for Fight of the Night. Smith is a very talented fighter with a long reach (76”) for a lightweight, an effective jab and hand speed. Ma has the offensive tools to potentially spring a surprise, but he has so many defensive flaws that it’s hard not to envision Smith exploiting them. Expect another KO from Devonte Smith.
Number of Note: 8. Eight of Smith’s nine wins have come by knockout. While most have come in the opening round, he also has KO/TKO finishes in rounds two, three, and four.
Jalin Turner ($8,700) vs. Callan Potter ($7,500)
Turner is looking for his first UFC win after getting matched tough against veteran Vicente Luque, who knocked him out in a round. Much like Devonte Smith, Turner also comes via Dana White’s Contender Series, although the 23-year-old has competed in WSOF, Tachi Palace Fights and Bellator MMA. Potter is coming in on short notice, but as a winner of nine of his last 10 fights. The submission specialist has mostly beaten regional-level opposition, with that one loss coming against ex-Bellator contender Marcin Held.
This is theoretically a stylistic clash. Turner has the physical and athletic advantages and should be able to keep this fight standing. From there, the fight is decidedly in his favor over the 34-year-old. I’m going with Turner by knockout and to get back on track.
Number of Note: 2. Turner and Potter have a combined 35 professional fights, and only two of them have gone the distance. Turner lost his sole decision, while Potter won his.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is mookiealexander) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.