Adam Martin’s GPP Plays and Cash Game advice for UFC Vegas 24: Whittaker vs. Gastelum
We’re back with another awesome card this Saturday night at UFC Vegas 24: Whittaker vs. Gastelum. I crushed it again last week, going 10-3 with my picks and winning four units on my bets. It’s been a good stretch for me and I’m hoping we have another successful night this weekend. There are now 11 fights slated to take place this weekend, so let’s get into them right now.
UFC Vegas 24 Card
Robert Whittaker ($9100) vs. Kelvin Gaselum ($7100)
The main event of UFC Vegas 24 sees former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker taking on former Ultimate Fighter winner Kelvin Gastelum. Starting with Whittaker, he’s a former champ for a reason as he’s just a fantastic fighter. The 30-year-old Aussie, who is also a former TUF winner, has won nine of his last 10 fights and has defeated Darren Till and Jared Cannonier in his last two bouts since losing his belt to Israel Adesanya. Whittaker is still a serious title contender at 185lbs, and he showed that in his last two fights. He’s still one of the best strikers in the division, he still packs a big punch, and he still has great cardio. I do think it’s fair to say his chin might be a bit questionable at this point of his career as we’ve seen him get dropped in multiple fights now. But overall, Whittaker is still one of the best in the world at 185.
In this fight, Whittaker takes on Gastelum in a fight that was originally supposed to happen in 2019. We finally get to see these two fights two years later after Gastelum filled in on short notice for Paulo Costa. Gastelum was on a three-fight losing skid just a few months ago, but he bounced back earlier this year with a unanimous decision win over Ian Heinisch. He looked outstanding in that fight, but I still feel like we have seen Gastelum’s better days. I think the biggest problem with him is that he’s in the wrong weight class as I still believe he’s better suited for 170lbs. In this fight, Gastelum will be at a three-inch height disadvantage and a two-inch reach disadvantage. He is a southpaw and he is one year younger, but overall I do think we are going to see the size difference. That being said, Gastelum still has a puncher’s chance here.
Overall, this should be a great fight but I’m thinking Whittaker wins a decision over Gastelum. I think in the end he is the more varied striker and has good enough wrestling to keep this fight standing where he can pick apart Gastelum and edge it out on the judges’ scorecards. The price is pretty high for Whittaker, but given that it’s a five-round fight and that he can rack up volume striking stats, he could put up a decent number. I also think Gastelum is a dog worth considering on this slate, given that he does have KO power and he could also potentially win a decision. I’m not counting on that happening, but I do think you could use him as a dog in your GPPs. In the end, however, I’m riding with Whittaker to go in there and get another decision victory.
Pick: Robert Whittaker
Jeremy Stephens ($8400) vs. Drakkar Klose ($7800)
In the lightweight division, Jeremy Stephens takes on Drakkar Klose. This should be a great fight between two fighters who have no problem standing and banging. Starting with Stephens, he has been in the UFC since 2007 which is just incredible to think, and yet he’s only 34. So he’s really not as old as you’d expect. That being said, he’s been in some wars over the years and he suffered a few knockout losses towards the end of his featherweight run. Maybe moving back up to 155lbs will help his durability, but given that he’s been getting knocked out at a higher frequency lately, I feel like his chin might be gone at this point. There’s no doubt he still has huge power, but I feel like Stephens is in a steep decline and it’s hard to back him here. Remember, he has more losses than anyone in UFC history and is on a five-fight winless skid.
Klose isn’t an amazing fighter by any means, but he’s a pretty good wrestler and has some striking skills. It does concern me that he was brutally knocked out by Beneil Dariush in his last fight, so hopefully, he doesn’t stand and bang with Stephens as that could spell disaster. What I’m thinking here is that Klose will look to use his wrestling and grind on Stephens. If that’s the case, then he should have the size advantage and be able to wear Stephens out. I’m not sure if he will finish Stephens, but I think Klose can win a decision. There will be some underdogs on this card that will win and I think Klose can get the job done over a veteran on a decline.
Pick: Drakkar Klose
Andrei Arlovski ($8500) vs. Chase Sherman ($7700)
The heavyweights are up next as Andrei Arlovski fills in on short notice when he takes on Chase Sherman. I should mention right away that I always bet against Arlovski. After all, he’s 42 years old and we know he doesn’t have a great chin. But that hasn’t worked out great in recent years, as “The Pitbull” has pulled off several upsets. Even though he’s an aging fighter, I have to give Arlovski a lot of credit as to me he’s looked improved lately, which is a rarity this late in his career. He’s one of the most experienced fighters in the UFC heavyweight division and that veteran experience has allowed him to pull off upsets over the likes of Tanner Boser. Despite his chin issues, Arlovski is still a huge man with power and a gifted kickboxer with good wrestling.
Sherman is returning to the Octagon after missing the last nine months due to a USADA suspension for PEDs. That’s always a worry, even if he says that he didn’t intentionally take the substance in question. It makes you wonder if Sherman’s TKO win over Ike Villanueva was as good as it seemed or if he was amplified by banned substances. Looking back at Sherman’s fights, he’s a big, strong striker with knockout power and he dominates lower-level opposition. I also like that he throws leg kicks. However, he doesn’t have good striking defense and he doesn’t have a good chin. He’s one-dimensional, and Arlovski is the more well-rounded fighter.
Given that this is a heavyweight fight with a high probability of a knockout for the winner, you have to play both sides in some capacity. My slight lean here is towards Arlovski just because I think he is the better mixed martial artist. But his chin is such a concern at this stage of his career, that with Sherman being 10 years younger here, you have to play both sides of this fight.
Pick: Andrei Arlovski
Abdul Razak Alhassan ($9300) vs. Jacob Malkoun ($6900)
In the welterweight division, Abdul Razak Alhassan takes on Jacob Malkoun. It wasn’t that long ago that Alhassan was one of the most feared fighters at 170lbs. In September 2018, Alhassan knocked out Niko Price and it looked like he could be a serious problem in the division. However, two weeks later he was accused of sexual assault, and his legal case dragged on for nearly two years. In March 2020, Alhassan was found not guilty by a jury and was reinstated to the UFC. But he has really struggled in his last couple of fights since returning, getting knocked out by Khaos Williams and dropping a decision to Mounir Lazzez. At age 35, it’s unfortunate for Alhassan that false accusations stole two years of his prime. We know now he is on the decline. The question is whether or not he can still beat someone like Malkoun, and I think he can.
I don’t think Malkoun is really a UFC-caliber fighter, and this almost looks like the UFC is throwing Alahssan a bone here. Malkoun has fought just once in the UFC and was knocked out by Phil Hawes in the first round. He just backed up and his opponent started swinging and connected on a big shot and put him out. Watching back his earlier career fights, he’s definitely a scrappy guy who comes to fight. But I think he has a serious problem with his chin and I don’t think he can take a punch. If he can survive the first-round onslaught he can win the fight, but that’s a massive if. I expect Alhassan to knock Malkoun out in the first round. He’s one of the most expensive fighters on the card, but if he scores the KO he will be well worth the price.
Pick: Abdul Razak Alhassan
Luis Pena ($8700) vs. Alex Munoz ($7500)
In lightweight action, Luis Pena takes on Alex Munoz. This is a really close fight according to the odds, but Pena is listed as a big favorite on DK. Whenever you see that sort of discrepancy, you have to take a look at the other side. In this case, it’s Munoz. I really wanted to like him here considering the cheap price but after watching more of his fights, I’m not convinced he beats Pena. Munoz is a wrestler who has some boxing skills, but to me, he just feels very basic in his approach. There is nothing that stands out from his game aside from his takedowns, and I feel like someone as dynamic as Pena is can give him trouble. I do think Munoz is a live dog here if he’s able to get takedowns, but overall I didn’t like him as much as I thought after watching tape.
I fully expected to fade Pena after his last loss to Khama Worthy, but I think this is a decent matchup for him stylistically. It’s worth noting right away that Pena has several physical advantages in this fight including being six inches taller, having three more inches in reach, being a southpaw, and being three years younger. All of those things matter in what is otherwise a close fight. I think Pena is the better striker in this matchup and I think he has the better submissions and cardio, too. The only edge I would give to Munoz is the wrestling, and that might be enough for him to edge it out. But overall, I still lean towards Pena to win a decision.
Pick: Luis Pena
Tracy Cortez ($9000) vs. Justine Kish ($7200)
In the women’s flyweight division, top prospect Tracy Cortez returns to the Octagon against veteran Justine Kish. It’s worth noting that Cortez is returning to 125lbs, where she previously competed, after having her first two UFC fights at 135lbs. In those fights, Cortez was very impressive, as she defeated both Stephanie Egger and Vanessa Melo in a mostly dominant fashion. Just 27 years old, Cortez is a machine with her wrestling game. She is generally able to push her opponents against the cage, tire them out, then get them to the mat where she just wears on them and breaks them down. These kinds of grinding-based wrestlers have proven to be excellent for fantasy, so if Cortez can land takedowns on this fight, she could be good in DFS.
Based on what I’ve seen from Kish’s game, she can be taken down to the ground and controlled, especially later in the fight once she tires out a bit. I will give Kish some credit as far as her striking goes as I do think she has the better boxing and would likely win a striking battle. But this is MMA, it’s not kickboxing, and she just doesn’t seem very well-rounded to me. Not only that, but Kish is six years older in this fight, being 33 years old. She is also coming off losses in three of her last four fights. Everything is pointing against Kish in this fight. Go with Cortez. She should be able to ride top control and win a decision or maybe get a late finish.
Pick: Tracy Cortez
Alexander Romanov ($8800) vs. Juan Espino ($7400)
The heavyweights are back at it when Alexander Romanov takes on Juan Espino. I actually really like this fight as it matches up two skilled grapplers against each other, with the winner likely destined to landing a top-15 opponent their next time out. Starting with the favorite here in Romanov, the guy is an animal. They call him “King Kong” for a reason and that’s because he’s as strong as an ox and can pick up his opponents, slam them to the mat, and beat them up with ground and pound. Romanov has gotten everyone he’s fought in his career to the ground and he’s finished all of his fights, including a forearm choke submission win over Marcos Rogerio de Lima and a submission win over Roque Martinez. If he gets on top, good luck getting him off.
As dominant as Romanov is on the ground, so is Espino. The 41-year-old Spain native won TUF: Heavy Hitters in 2018 with a submission win over Justin Frazier, but he missed two years of his career until he got back in the cage with Jeff Hughes and finished him by submission in September 2020. Espino has looked absolutely amazing in both of his UFC fights, but he used his grappling to win those fights, and this matchup against Romanov is against another grappler. It’s possible that instead of this fight taking place on the ground, we end up seeing a striking battle, and if that’s the case, it’s really a crapshoot who would win as we have barely seen anything from either guy on the feet. It makes this fight a very interesting stylistic matchup.
This is a close fight, and from a DFS perspective, you have to play both sides in some capacity here as a finish is extremely likely either way. For me, I have to lean a little bit towards Romanov just for the simple fact that he’s a full 10 years younger. You guys know I generally bet against the older fighter, and it usually works out well. I will say that Espino is a younger 41-year-old, but still. In a fight where I feel like the skills are similar, I will take the upside and go with Romanov. I think he will prove to have the better gas tank and eventually finish Espino with a TKO.
Pick: Alexander Romanov
Lupita Godinez ($9200) vs. Jessica Penne ($7000)
In the women’s strawweight division, Lupita Godinez makes her UFC debut against veteran Jessica Penne. It’s worth noting that Penne was supposed to fight Hannah Goldy twice over the last month, but the fight was canceled both times, and Godinez took the fight on short notice. Talking about Godinez first, she’s a very fun fighter to watch. I would say she is more of a brawler type of fighter, and she is very tough. She is constantly walking forward throwing heat and she can take it too. At age 27, she’s young and just entering the prime of her career. Though Godinez only has five pro fights, she also has tons of amateur experience. I like what I see from Godinez and I think she has what it takes to win her UFC debut on short notice.
As for Penne, I was going to fade her against Goldy, and I’m doing the same thing here against Godinez. Although Penne is the more experienced fighter, she hasn’t fought since 2017 due to issues with USADA, and even when she was an active fighter in the Octagon, she wasn’t very good with a 1-3 record. It’s good to see that Penne battled back to return to the UFC, but considering she’s 38 years old, even her four-inch reach advantage can’t save her in this fight. I like Godinez to win this fight and she should be able to tee off on Penne and either win a decision or get the stoppage. I wish the price was cheaper, but Godinez should roll here.
Pick: Lupita Godinez
Bartosz Fabinski ($8300) vs. Gerald Meerschaert ($7900)
A battle of middleweight features veteran grapplers Bartosz Fabinski and Gerald Meerschaert going at it. I can almost guarantee this fight is going to play out primarily on the ground, so if you like grappling, this should be a treat. Starting with Fabinski, he is basically a blanket when he gets on top of his opponents as he just suffocates them with his top control. He actually defeated Darren Stewart last year in Cage Warriors, which was very impressive. The thing about Fabinski that I don’t like is that he’s a decision machine and doesn’t go for finishes. He’s okay with just holding top position and grinding out decisions, but that method doesn’t always work out so well if he fights an impressive grappler like Andre Muniz or Michel Prazeres.
As for Meerschaert, he is also a grappler, though he’s content with fighting off his back. It’s worth noting that five out of six of Meerschaert’s UFC wins have come by submission, so you know he’s amazing on the ground. I know Meerschaert looks like fade material because he was knocked out by Ian Heinisch and Khamzat Chimaev, but it’s all matchup dependent in MMA. In this case, Meerschaert is not fighting someone with striking skills. In fact, I think Meerschaert has the better striking in this fight as Fabinski has none. It ultimately comes down to whether or not you see Meerschaert scoring the submission win from his guard. Based on the technical mistakes I see in Fabinski’s game, I think there’s a chance Meerschaert can get the finish.
Pick: Gerald Meerschaert
Josiane Nunes ($8600) vs. Zarah Fairn ($7600)
Women’s bantamweights meet when Josiane Nunes takes on Zarah Fairn. Honestly, I don’t think either of these fighters is UFC caliber. Starting with Nunes, I don’t get this high price tag on her. Yes, she’s on a nice little win streak, but if you actually watch the fights, she was basically just swinging haymakers and beating up opponents who had no business stepping into a cage. She fights very aggressively and wildly, kind of in the vein of Wanderlei Silva, and I can see that overwhelming type of striking attack having success for her in the UFC. But I have one major concern: this girl is 5’2” and fighting at 135lbs. That’s not a recipe for success, and until she moves down to 125lbs or possibly even 115lbs, I think she will struggle to deal with bigger opponents. There are some things to like about Nunes in this fight, with her being 10 years younger and a southpaw, but I don’t think she will be able to overcome the size disadvantage.
That’s because Fairn is six inches taller and also has a five-inch reach advantage. That’s huge, and I think the size difference will be obvious on the scales during the weigh-ins on Friday. It’s not that I’m impressed with Fairn or anything. I honestly don’t think she’s that great, and considering she’s 34 years old, I can’t really see her improving too much. In her first two fights in the UFC, she was absolutely destroyed by Megan Anderson and Felicia Spencers, but those two fighters took her down to the mat. In this fight, it seems more likely it will stay on the feet, and if that’s the case, then I have to favor Fairn’s size and reach. This is not a fight I have a ton of interest in from a DFS perspective, but ultimately I think Fairn can win a decision here.
Pick: Zarah Fairn
UPDATE: Fairn missed weight, coming in at 147lbs, while Nunes was just 136lbs for what was supposed to be a 139lbs catchweight bout. The fight has been canceled.
Tony Gravely ($9400) vs. Anthony Birchak ($6600)
In the bantamweight division, Tony Graveley takes on Anthony Birchak. Gravely is the most expensive fighter on this weekend’s slate, which is rare for someone this early on the prelims, but I feel like it’s justified. Stylistically, this is a great matchup for Gravely. He is a beast with his takedowns and Birchak doesn’t have very good takedown defense. In fact, I think Birchak won’t mind going to the ground as his best path to victory might actually be a submission. But I just don’t see that happening. Instead, I see Gravely staying in the top position for the entire 15 minutes or until he gets a stoppage. I believe Graveley will be dominant and get the win here.
The price is very high, meaning if you put Gravely on your team you will have to look for other underdogs somewhere else to make up for it. That will lead to a lot of people looking the other way here and taking a shot at Birchak as a big underdog, but I’m not seeing it. I just think Gravely lays on top of him and eventually breaks him. With the way MMA fights are scored now with more points for wrestlers, Gravely seems like a potential MVP for your teams on Saturday.
Pick: Tony Gravely
Austin Hubbard ($8900) vs. Dakota Bush ($7300)
In lightweight action, Austin Hubbard takes on Dakota Bush, who is taking the fight on short notice for Natan Levy. Despite taking the fight on short notice, I actually think Bush has a good chance to win this fight. From what I’ve seen, Hubbard isn’t anything special. He’s just kind of average everywhere, whereas I think Bush can actually do some damage in the UFC. He has really powerful wrestling, good striking and knockout power, and he’s aggressive. I really liked what I saw from Bush and I think he has a good shot here of beating Hubbard, who I just haven’t been impressed by in the Octagon. Even if Hubbard does win, I think Bush can make it competitive, and at this cheap price, he’s a good option to use as the sixth spot in your lineup.
Pick: Dakota Bush
MVPs: Tony Gravely ($9400), Abdul Razak Alhassan ($9300), Tracy Cortez ($9000)
Live Dogs: Gerald Meerschaert ($7900), Drakkar Klose ($7800), Dakota Bush ($7300)
Avoid: Austin Hubbard ($8900), Josiane Nunes ($8600), Jacob Malkoun ($6900)
Striker’s Parlay: Whittaker/Alhassan 1.13 to win 1
Grappler’s Parlay: Cortez/Gravely 1.29 to win 1
Gerald Meerschaert 1 to win 1.1
Dakota Bush 1 to win 1.6
Drakkar Klose 1 to win 1
Prop: Sherman/Arlovski doesn’t go the distance 1 to win 1.05
For more on UFC Vegas 24, check out Duke’s MMA Breakdown!