Just hours before the UFC 234 card was to start at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, early Sunday (locally that is, Feb. 10), it took a gut shot when news leaked that middleweight champion Robert Whittaker had fallen ill late Saturday night. According to reports, he started vomiting but was reluctant to go to the hospital.
Whittaker wanted to defend his 185-pound strap and then deal with whatever issue he had going on in his abdomen. But after some convincing from his team and family members, he relented and went to the hospital. There he was diagnosed with a hernia and was rushed into emergency surgery.
As UFC President Dana White explained in his post-fight presser, if Whittaker had fought and taken damage to his abdomen area, his colon could’ve ruptured and it might have been a fatal situation. So with that in mind, let’s just be glad Whittaker is going to be OK moving forward, although Kelvin Gastelum had to be devastated at missing out on a title shot.
As is the case when all situations like this unfold, there were plenty of volunteers to jump in on short notice. Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone was at the event and threw out his typical tweet at Dana White stating, “I know a guy.”
Even former UFC middleweight and light-heavyweight championship challenger Chael Sonnen, who now fights under the Bellator promotion but does analyst work for ESPN that had him Down Under, threw his name in the fray. Of course, Sonnen had two epic fights with former middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva, who was scheduled to fight unbeaten rising star Israel Adesanya in the co-main event.
Sonnen tweeted that he had received special permission from Bellator to fight Silva that night if the UFC wanted to elevate Adesanya to the main event to take on Gastelum for the interim middleweight title. Sonnen stated that he needed only three things: gloves, a mouthpiece and a triple XXXL cup.
Alas, none of that happened with the promotion taking Gastelum off the card and moving Adesanya-Silva up to the main event as a three-round non-title fight. Lando Vannata vs. Marcos Rosa shifted from the UFC Fight Pass prelims into the co-main slot.
Fans were offered full refunds, but the Aussies didn’t want their money back. They showed up in force and it was a packed house at The Rod. The prelims on ESPN started at 8 p.m. ET and got off to a hot start when bantamweight Kyung Ho Kang waged a slugfest with Teruto Ishihara for several minutes. Eventually Kang worked Ishihara to the ground with a takedown and finished him with a rear-naked choke with 61 seconds left in the opening stanza.
Kang won as a -350 favorite, hooking up his backers for prop bets on him to win by submission (+175) and in Round 1 (+275). The ‘under’ (2.5 rounds, -130) also cashed.
The prelims headliner saw lightweight Devonte Smith garner Performance of the Night honors by dusting Dong Hyun Kim with a first-round knockout at the 3:49 mark. Smith won as a -260 ‘chalk’ and the ‘under’ hit for a +125 return (1.5 rounds). Smith hit props for him to win by KO (-125) and in Round 1 (+195).
The main card began with controversy, as Jimmy Crute won by first-round KO over ‘Smilin’ Sam Alvey as a short favorite in a light-heavyweight scrap. Most observers felt it was an early stoppage, as Alvey immediately jumped up to protest the stoppage. Others thought referee Marc Goddard also was mistaken when he earlier stepped in front of Crute after landing big shots on Alvey, but he didn’t stop the fight in that instance but caused Crute to hesitate in not going for the finish. Whatever the case, Crute won as a -160 favorite and the ‘under’ was also a winner (+110, 2.5 rounds).
Women’s flyweight Montana De La Rosa improved to 10-4 overall and 3-0 in the UFC by defeating Nadia Kassem by armbar submission at the 2:37 mark of Round 2. De La Rosa won an extra $50,000 for POTN honors as she won her fourth consecutive fight by submission finish.
In a bantamweight tilt, Ricky Simon won a lopsided unanimous decision (30-27 twice, 30-25) over Rani Yahya in a pick’em match.
In the co-main event, Vannata finished Rosa with a kimura submission with five seconds remaining in the opening stanza. Vannata cashed as an expensive -450 ‘chalk,’ while the ‘under’ also prevailed at a -120 price (1.5 rounds). Props for Vannata to win in Round 1 paid +160, while the payouts were +250 by submission and -210 for inside the distance.
The substitute headliner didn’t disappoint. Turns out, the 43-year-old ‘Spider’ has still got plenty of gas left in the tank. He was back to his old tricks again, dropping his hands and standing in front of Adesanya (and eating punches) and simply putting on a show. Some observers and one of the three judges gave Round 2 to Silva, but Adesanya won by UD (30-27, 29-28, 30-27) as an enormous -500 favorite.
The 29-year-old Adesanya improved to 16-0 overall and 5-0 in the UFC (in less than 365 days on the job). With Whittaker sidelined until late this summer, the UFC has booked Adesanya to meet Gastelum for the interim middleweight championship.
As for Silva, his performance demonstrated that he can still be competitive with the best the 185-pound loop has to offer. He says he wants to fight a few more times and mentioned a rematch with Nick Diaz and a fight with Conor McGregor as his wishes. Word on the street is Nick Diaz does more partying than anything else these days, is making plenty of money outside of MMA promoting (legal) weed-related activities and he hasn’t fought since facing Silva in January of 2015. So don’t expect Nick Diaz and Silva to dance once again, but McGregor tweeted that it’d be his honor to fight him, although he has since claimed to be in retirement (yeah, right!) after he turned down a fight with Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone because he refuse to co-headline an event.
Cerrone, by the way, thrilled the crowd by drinking beer out of a cowboy boot during the show. In a prefight fan event, one fan told Cerrone on the microphone how his son is a fan and wants a cowboy hat because of how much he likes Cerrone. ‘Cowboy’ promptly took his cowboy hat off and gave it away to the fan to give to his son.