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+.
Strawweight: Jessica Penne (12-6, 1-3 UFC, +230) vs. Lupita Godinez (5-0, 0-0 UFC, -280)
Recap to come.
Guillotine respect guillotine. Solid work @The_Real_GM3
— Brian BOOM Kelleher (@brianboom135) April 18, 2021
Some fighters’ best weapon is their punching, for some it’s their kicking, and for some their grappling. Hubbard’s winning formula was a combination of patience and timing.
His striking and grappling came into play as well, for sure, but what won Hubbard the decision (29-28 on all three scorecards) was his calm in the early going — when Bush came out aggressively in his UFC debut — and well-timed takedowns and grappling reversals once Bush’s energy level had dipped.
Bush clearly had been waiting for this first trip inside the Octagon, and he wasted not a second before getting into it. He came out firing calf kicks, lead left hooks and a whole lot more, relentlessly. Hubbard did not allow himself to be drawn into a brawl, though. He maintained range and countered when the opportunity presented itself, and in the closing seconds of Round 1, he shot for a takedown and got it.
That was a preview of what was to come. In the second and third round, Hubbard was step ahead in all of the grappling exchanges, reversing wherever Bush attempted and gaining full mount a few times. It wasn’t a blowout of a fight by any means, but Hubbard showed the new guy who was in control.
Hubbard, who is 29 and fights out of Denver, continued his trend of alternating wins and losses in the UFC. Bush, a 26-year-old from Cuba, Missouri, saw his two-fight winning streak end.
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)