This weekend in MMA: UFC 234 to include many former wrestlers, including main event challenger Gastelum

By JD Rader, USA Wrestling | Feb. 08, 2019, 9:40 a.m. (ET)
UFC 234 is taking place this weekend in Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. If you want to watch but aren’t sure who to root for, look no further. The following is a list of fighters stepping into the octagon Saturday with a wrestling background.

In the main event of the evening, former wrestler Kelvin Gastelum will get a shot at the UFC Middleweight belt when he takes on current UFC Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.

After becoming a state champion for Cibola High School in Yuma, Ariz. in 2009, Gastelum decided to attend North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene. With 14 NJCAA national team titles, North Idaho is one of the top JUCO schools in wrestling. Gastelum redshirted one year in Coeur d’Alene before deciding to pursue a career in mixed martial arts instead.

The decision to compete in MMA has paid off for Gastelum. In 2013 Gastelum became the youngest fighter to ever win The Ultimate Fighter when he defeated Uriah Hall at age 21. Although this will be Gastelum’s first UFC title fight, he holds wins over Jake Ellenberger, Johny Hendricks, Tim Kennedy, and Michael Bisping during his fighting career.

Gastelum will be up against some stiff competition in Robert Whittaker. Whittaker is 20-4 in MMA, with his last two wins coming over wrestling legend Yoel Romero (an Olympic and World wrestling medalist). Not to mention the fight will be taking place in Whittaker’s home country of Australia.

The first fight on the main card of UFC 234 will be Jim Crute vs Sam Alvey. Although Alvey is not considered by most to be a wrestler, he does have a solid background in wrestling. Alvey was a high school wrestler in his hometown of Waterford, Wis. before competing for one year at D3 Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wis. Alvey then made the transition to MMA.

Alvey has gone 33-11-1 in MMA and holds wins over former wrestler and UFC legend Rashad Evans and Nate Marquardt.

The first former wrestler to be competing at UFC 234 will be 26-year-old Lando Vannata. A native of Neptune, N.J., Vannata began wrestling in high school where he was a state medalist his senior year. After high school, Vannata wrestled for one semester at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga but left school after one semester.

Upon leaving UTC, he immediately moved to Albuquerque, N.M. to join JacksonWink Academy and hasn’t looked back since. JacksonWink Academy is home to many successful fighters including Jon Jones, Holly Holm, and Carlos Condit.

Vannata will be bringing a 9-3-2 record into the octagon with him where he’ll take on Marcos Rosa Mariano on the early prelims of UFC 234.

UFC 234 will get started off with early prelim action airing on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 p.m. ET. The preliminary card will air on ESPN and begin at 8 p.m. And the main card will begin at 10 p.m. and can be ordered via pay-per-view.

Last weekend recap


There wasn’t much going on last weekend in terms of former wrestlers competing in MMA. However, a two-time All-American for Oklahoma State, Kyle Crutchmer, improved to 4-0 in MMA when he defeated Josh Weston by unanimous decision at Xtreme Fight Night 356.