April was always going to be a defining month for the UFC’s middleweight division, although we’ve certainly encountered a few curveballs to get here.
Former champion Robert Whittaker (22-5) faces Kelvin Gastelum (17-6) on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. It’s a crucial main event at 185 pounds, and it comes just one week after Marvin Vettori, another contender in the division, defeated Kevin Holland in a five-round main event.
Originally, Vettori was supposed to face Darren Till last week and Whittaker was supposed to meet Paulo Costa, but Till dropped out of this mini middleweight tourney with a broken collarbone and Costa did the same due to illness. Nevertheless, the division’s next title contender was always going to emerge from this two-week stretch, and Saturday’s main event will go a long way in determining who it is.
Right before Fight Night started, the original co-main event, a lightweight bout between veteran Jeremy Stephens and Drakkar Klose was canceled due to non-COVID reasons. Now Andrei Arlovski will steal the co-main spotlight and hopes to prove he still has what it takes as he faces Chase Sherman in his 35th UFC fight.
Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim recap all the action. You can also watch UFC Fight Night on ESPN and ESPN+.
Lightweight: Austin Hubbard (12-5, 2-3 UFC, -190) vs. Dakota Bush (8-2, 0-0 UFC, +160)
Gravely hurt Birchak badly with blows on the ground in the first round. Referee Mark Smith didn’t think it was enough, though, and allowed Birchak to fight on. In the second round, Gravely left no doubt.
Gravely stopped Birchak via TKO at 1:31 of the second round to open UFC Fight Night on Saturday. Gravely landed a wicked left hook that put Birchak down and then finished with hammerfists on the ground as Smith came in to pull him off.
The first round was wild. Gravely knocked Birchak around on the feet, but when things ended up on the ground Birchak was able to sweep and then attempt a guillotine. Gravely survived, got back on top and landed huge ground and pound. It appeared like Birchak was not intelligently defending himself as Gravely landed hard punch after hand punch with Birchak turtled up, but Birchak still managed to survive the first.
In the second round, Gravely landed a takedown, but Birchak worked his way back up. On the feet, Birchak went for a kick and Gravely countered with a whipping left hook that put Birchak down for good.
Gravely, 29, has won two straight and nine of his last 10 fights. The Virginia native, who fights out of American Top Team in Florida, is a product of Dana White’s Contender Series. Birchak, a 34-year-old Arizona native, has lost both of his fights since returning to the UFC last year.
Crazy back and forth round to start the night!!#UFCVegas24
— Jamahal “Sweet Dreams” Hill (@JamahalH) April 17, 2021
Still to come:
Middleweight: Robert Whittaker (23-5,13-3 UFC, -270) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (17-6 1 NC, 11-6 1 NC UFC, +220)
Heavyweight: Andrei Arlovski (30-20 2 NC, 19-14 1 NC UFC, -115) vs. Chase Sherman (15-6, 3-5 UFC, -105)
Middleweight: Abdul Razak Alhassan (10-3, 4-3 UFC, -300) vs. Jacob Malkoun (4-1, 0-1 UFC, +240)
Women’s flyweight: Tracy Cortez (8-1, 2-0 UFC, -280) vs. Justine Kish (7-3, 3-3 UFC, +230)
Lightweight: Luis Pena (8-3, 4-3 UFC, -160) vs. Alexander Muñoz (6-1, 0-1 UFC, +135)
Heavyweight: Alexander Romanov (13-0, 2-0 UFC, -140) vs. Juan Espino (11-1, 2-0 UFC, +120)
Strawweight: Jessica Penne (12-6, 1-3 UFC, +230) vs. Lupita Godinez (5-0, 0-0 UFC, -280)
Middleweight: Gerald Meerschaert (31-14, 6-6 UFC, +110) vs. Bartosz Fabinski (15-4, 3-2 UFC, -130)