By: Jesse Donathan
Unfortunately for everyone involved, UFC 234 was marked with late news on Saturday, the day of the fight, that the much-anticipated main event, a 185-pound middleweight title fight between Kelvin Gastelum and Robert Whitaker was canceled due to the discovery of a hernia which forced the champion Robert Whitaker to withdraw from Saturday nights contest in Melbourne, Australia.
Sherdog.com’s Tristen Critchfield reported in his February 9, 2019 article titled, “Hernia Forces Robert Whittaker Out of Title Defense vs. Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 234” that, “UFC President Dana White confirmed the news to ESPN on Saturday. Whittaker experienced pain in his abdomen late last night and was taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a hernia.”
In a response released from Gastelum via his official Twitter account Saturday night, the challenger would go on to state, “With much sorrow I write that my fight for the middleweight title is off. I’m sorry to everyone that was expecting this great fight, Family, friends and followers around the world.” Kelvin Gastelum is a great fighter, he has earned this title shot and we can only hope he is able to maintain this number one contender position without penalty and get the title shot that is rightfully his.
The UFC released a video Sunday evening via Twitter of the still hospitalized champion Robert Whittaker apologizing for the fight cancellation and detailing a very serious emergency surgency he underwent for a collapsed bowel and internal hernia. According to Whittaker, the UFC spared no expense in his treatment and the champion sounded very grateful for their kindness. Fans around the world are wishing Whittaker good health and a speedy recovery. This man is a true warrior and a wonderful mixed martial arts champion.
As a result, the UFC 234 co-main event between Anderson Silva and Israel Adesanya was promoted to the headlining contest, though curiously enough remained a three-round affair. This is significant because Jose Aldo is reported to have turned down headlining UFC Fight Night 144 on ESPN+ due to the then customary five round main event requirements at the time. It appears an exception has been made or reason has finally come upon the ears of the corporate fight world if only momentarily.
There are any number of potential hardships that can befall a fight camp when an event is cancelled last second, and depending on how a fighter’s contract is framed there may be little to no financial recourse for those who may have promised or invested in training partners and/or any number of coaches, experts, specialists etc. in their quest for a championship run. All of whom may be adversely affected financially by news of a fights complete removal from a card barring the good graces of the promotion themselves.
There is a lot of time, hard work and sacrifice involved in preparing for these fights and for something to go wrong where a fight is cancelled last second is truly a nightmare scenario. Barring a well written contract or the UFC’s mercy, fighters do not get paid if they do not fight. And the money lost by the promotion themselves in marketing the fight is simply unconscionable.
Depending on the event, last second cancellations can result in fans who had pre-ordered pay-per-view events, purchased tickets to the event itself or subscribed to channels which required additional billing becoming very dissatisfied customers with the last second change of plans. In other words, news of Robert Whitakers withdraw Saturday night was a complete catastrophe. And this coming off the heels of UFC 232, where Jon Jones was unable to secure a license to fight in the state of Nevada and the event was completely moved to a new venue in Inglewood, California virtually last second.
Aaron Bronsteter, UFC reporter and content editor for TSN Sports, reported via Twitter Saturday afternoon that ESPN analyst and former two-time UFC challenger to Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen, had obtained special permission from Scott Coker and the UFC’s rival promotion, Bellator, to step in to fight Anderson Silva on short notice should the UFC have wanted to make Israel Adesanya vs Kelvin Gastelum for an interim title fight. According to Sonnen, all he would have required was, “a mouthpiece, gloves and an XXXL size cup.” Unfortunately for the fans, this particular scenario did not materialize because it would have been an epic and exciting turn of events.
According to a February 8, 2019 sherdog.com article titled “Israel Adesanya Questions Anderson Silva’s Choice to Bring in Alex Pereira For Training” author Nathan Zur writes that Anderson Silva brought in top-tier training partners in preparation for Israel Adesanya:
“For this fight against the rising super star Adesanya, “The Spider” has brought in Brazilian world champion Glory kickboxer Alex Pereira who has beaten “The Last Stylebender” on two occasions, first when they met back in 2016 at the “Glory of Heroes” event with Pereira winning by unanimous decision and then again in 2017 at “Glory of Heroes 7” with the Brazilian Pereira knocking out the rising UFC star.”
The anticipation of the Adesanya vs. Silva fight may not have lived up to everyone’s expectations, but it was an entertaining fight nonetheless. There was plenty of showmanship throughout the fight from both fighters and the Melbourne, Australia crowd seemed genuinely entertained despite the last second cancellation of the previously scheduled main event. Adesanya’s strategy in the first appeared to be to attack low and go high, setting Silva up with a predominantly low strike-oriented attack to continuously draw Silva’s hands and attention low in order to set up a potentially game changing technique thrown high. Interestingly enough, Anderson Silva seemed to be well prepared for this game plan, even expecting it, likely the result of training with Alex Pereira. In what was likely Anderson Silva’s plan all along, round one was marked with Adesanya being the more active fighter in the cage and there is little question Israel took round one 10-9.
The second round was a different story however, as Anderson Silva came alive and was noticeably more active throughout. Silva had Adesanya on the run a handful of times, at one-point Silva even dropped his hands and met Adesanya in the middle of the cage with a very determined look on his face attempting to draw Adesanya into a brawl. This was an entertaining fight, though perhaps marked with too much showboating at times from both competitors which the enthusiastic Melbourne crowd seemed to have loved despite my objections. To the delight of many, Anderson Silva’s legendary head movement and reflexes returned in this fight, though if only briefly. Round two was a 10-9 round for Silva, who showed Adesanya there is a reason “The Spider” is a respected standup fighter in the UFC.
Under the 10-point must system, a round is rarely scored an even 10-10. Unfortunately, it must be ruled at least a 10-9 for a fighter despite the fact these contests are regularly marked with rounds which there was no decisive edge by either athlete in the ring or cage. Otherwise, I personally would have scored round three of Silva vs Adesanya a 10-10 because it wasn’t particularly eventful. Though both fighters had their moments, if I was absolutely forced to give the final five minutes to someone it would have been Adesanya for being the predictably more active, fresher fighter within the closing minute of the fight. The judges ultimately scored this contest 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for the winner Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision.
In other news from UFC 234, Devonte “King Kage” Smith took Dong Hyun Ma (16-9) behind the wood shed, dispatching the veteran South Korean mixed martial artists by knockout at 3:53 in the first round. With Saturday nights victory Smith moves to a very impressive 10-1, with all of those victories but one coming by way of KO or TKO. In Tristen Critchfield’s February 9, 2019 sherdog.com article titled, “UFC 234 Bonuses: Israel Adesanya, Anderson Silva Garner ‘Fight of the Night’ Honors” Devonte Smith is quoted as having received a well-deserved $50,000 fight bonus for “Performance of the Night” honors along with Montana De La Rosa for her armbar submission victory over Nadia Kassem.