The Real Winners and Losers from UFC 234
UFC 234 was supposed to feature a middleweight showdown between champion Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum, but emergency hernia surgery forced the champ out of action. Instead, fans were left without a title bout atop Saturday's bill.
The remainder of the card was not anything to feed the fans' fervor, but the fighters still brought it. What the event lacked in name value, it made up for in action. Seven bouts ended before they could hit the scorecards.
After all the excitement of fight day, who were the real winners and losers of UFC 234 in Melbourne, Australia?
That question is exactly what we're here to answer.
The doors to Rod Laver Arena had yet to open, and the fans took an L.
UFC 234 was not a deep card to being with, but the main event fell apart hours before the card was set to start. As ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto first reported, UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was pulled from the event because of severe abdominal pain.
It's a big hit to those who paid for tickets, hotels and travel to watch this card. And it was a hit to the fans set to drop their money on the pay-per-view.
Israel Adesanya vs. Anderson Silva—previously the co-main event—vaulted to the marquee slot. It was not a bad fight in terms of name value, but Silva entered the evening as the biggest underdog on the card (per OddsShark). It was seen as a changing-of-the-guard fight, with Adesanya a clear-cut favorite. That's not exactly what you want for a main event.
It's not anyone's fault, and hopefully Whittaker makes a quick recovery. Still, it's a kick to the gut for fight fans who were on the verge of seeing an amazing middleweight championship showcase.
Loser: Kelvin Gastelum
Kelvin Gastelum lost his chance at the middleweight title because of Whittaker's injury, but that is not what earns him the distinction of being a UFC 234 loser. No, he gets that by parading around with a UFC title belt and calling himself the champion.
Backstage during the event, Gastelum had the strap draped over his shoulder and said, per MMAjunkie's Mike Bohn and John Morgan: "In my world, the wrestling world, if the guy shows up and makes the weight, for some reason cancels the bout, the guy forfeits the match—I win. I am the champion."
This is borderline embarrassing. How many elite fighters would shudder at the thought of doing something like this? It is one thing to call yourself the best but acknowledge you still have to beat the champion. It's another thing to just grab a belt and say you're the title-holder.
There is no new champion coming out of UFC 234, but there is a big ol' loser coming back to the States.
It is simply a bad look that endears Gastelum to nobody.
Winner: Israel Adesanya
It wasn't the annihilation many expected, but Israel Adesanya still came away a massive winner after his unanimous-decision victory (30-27, 30-27 and 29-28).
It was his first main event, and he faced a legend. Adesanya handled the spotlight well while giving the fans the exact kind of fight they wanted. Adesanya stood and exchanged with Silva for three full rounds. The 29-year-old's speed and creativity were simply too much for the 42-year-old.
This was a statement for Adesanya.
Sure, it would have been great for the highlight reel if he put Silva out on his back. But this win moves him into title contention. That's not simply because he beat the former champ, but also because fans are interested in his ascent.
Adesanya is a star in the making. This may have been the fight that officially made him.
The Last Stylebender is undefeated at 16-0 and the middleweight division's most electric fighter. Gastelum, and every other contender, should be concerned that he will take their title shot when Whittaker is healthy. This is who fans want to see in a main event.
Winner: Lando Vannata
It wasn't the initial plan, but Lando Vannata vs. Marcos Mariano ended up as the co-main event. It was an unlikely, lackluster co-main event namewise, but that wasn't the fighters' fault.
And Vannata took full advantage of the opportunity to show out, as he got back in the win column for the first time since December 2016.
Vannata has had a strange couple of years that featured two draws and a pair of losses. Even in going 0-2-2 in that stretch, Vannata remained one of the most fun lightweights to watch. At UFC 234, he got a gorgeous takedown and then a first-round kimura finish. It wasn't what fans were accustomed to in a Vannata fight, and that made it all the more entertaining.
The talented lightweight got to show more of his skills while he ran through a lesser competitor in a big spot. In the broadcast's post-fight interview, Vannata called out veteran Jim Miller. That would be a quality fight and an appropriate matchup for where he is in the division.
Solid performance; solid callout. That's a win.
Loser: Sam Alvey
Sam Alvey got ousted in two minutes, 49 seconds via stoppage, but his post-fight reactions landed him in the loser category.
Was the stoppage early? Possibly—if not probably. However, it wasn't unjust.
Jimmy Crute leveled Alvey. It could have been over if Crute had immediately followed up instead of walking off, but he gave Alvey a moment to recover. Once Crute realized the fight hadn't been called, he started pelting Alvey again.
Most of the shots failed to land cleanly, but all Alvey did was turtle up and give referee Marc Goddard a thumbs up.
Goddard is one of the best referees in the business, and his job is not to appease a fighter's wish to get beaten on as he sits on the canvas. Doing little to nothing except tell the referee you are OK is not the definition of intelligent defense, and Goddard had every right to step in given what he had seen.
Alvey blew up, chased Goddard around the cage and complained. Goddard likely only saved him from himself.
Winner: Kyung Ho Kang
Kyung Ho Kang has been in the UFC since 2013, and few know who he is because of an extended layoff for military duty. That may not be the case anymore after his technical submission victory over Teruto Ishihara.
In the first ESPN preliminary contest, Kang and Ishihara went to war. They battled back-and-forth and executed wild exchanges. Each man landed blows and hurt the other. The action got fight fans on their feet, and Kang capped it off by putting Ishihara to sleep before the first round ended.
The bonus for Kang?
This fight came right after a highly anticipated college basketball rematch between Duke and Virginia. If viewers stuck around, they were introduced to him in one of the most exciting ways possible. They will remember Kang's performance and be excited to watch him again.
That is the kind of exposure he needed with a 4-2 (1 NC) UFC record. Kang walked out of the Octagon a rejuvenated and valuable commodity in the bantamweight division.
Winner: Shane Young
Shane Young defeated Austin Arnett by a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in a well-contested but forgettable bout. But it was his post-fight interview (h/t BT Sport) that made him a real winner.
Young made an impassioned plea to youth regarding mental health.
The victorious featherweight talked about the suicide rate and said those in need should reach out for help. Young stated he got into MMA to use the platform to spread good in the world. He is doing that.
Young pointed anyone who's struggling to his Instagram page, @ShaneYoungMMA, where he said he will help.
You don't get much better than that in this sport.
UFC 234 Full Card Results
UFC 234 Main Card
- Israel Adesanya def. Anderson Silva by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
- Lando Vannata def. Marcos Mariano via submission (kimura) at 4:55 of the first round
- Ricky Simon def. Rani Yahya by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-25)
- Montana De La Rosa def. Nadia Kassem via submission (armbar) at 2:37 of the second round
- Jimmy Crute def. Sam Alvey by TKO at 2:49 of the first round
ESPN Preliminary Card
- Devonte Smith def. Dong Hyun Ma by TKO at 3:49 of the first round
- Shane Young def. Austin Arnett by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Kai Kara-France def. Raulian Paiva by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Kyung Ho Kang def. Teruto Ishihara via technical submission (rear-naked choke) at 3:59 of the first round
UFC Fight Pass Preliminary Card
- Jalin Turner def. Callan Potter by KO at 0:53 of the first round
- Jonathan Martinez def. Wuliji Buren by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)