The youngest man ever to win The Ultimate Fighter, Kelvin Gastelum’s career has seen highs and lows over the last eight years.
He won the competition as a middleweight, then moved down to welterweight immediately. He struggled to make the weight, missing by as much as 10lbs before his defeat to Tyron Woodley and then being forced to move back up.
When he moved back up he stopped Tim Kennedy, Victor Belfort (overturned to a NC) and Michael Bisping before beating Jacare Souza too to set himself up a title fight with Robert Whittaker.
When that fight fell through because of Whittaker being in need of emergency surgery on fight night, Whittaker was installed in an interim title fight against Israel Adesanya – who got bumped up to the main event spot at UFC 234 in Whittaker and Gastelum’s absence.
That fight would go down as one of the greatest in middleweight history, with The Last Stylebender and Gastelum going through an incredible 25 minute war. The fight ended in defeat, with a stoppage loss only saved by the end of the final round.
His stock wasn’t harmed by the defeat though, because it was well accepted that Adesanya was and is just that good.
That defeat caused a bit of a spiral though as he failed to build on that momentum in his next fight against Darren Till, failing to really pull the trigger and losing a split decision at UFC 244. Till was making his debut in the division and was expected to make waves, so the defeat was once again not looked on too poorly.
But then he fought Jack Hermansson at UFC Fight Island 2 and got embarrassed. After just 78 seconds, ‘Joker’ locked up a heel hook and forced Gastelum to submit for only the second time in his professional career.
After working so hard to build up to a title fight, he lost all the momentum behind him in three fights without ever getting the undisputed title shot he was scheduled for.
He finally got back on the winning trail at UFC 258 with a dominant decision win over Ian Heinisch and then proceeded to say he was ready for any call up should one of the upcoming middleweight bouts fall out.
In the end they both did, but it was Paulo Costa who withdrew first and Gastelum was quick to throw his name in the hat to finally get that bout against Whittaker from two years previous.
Whittaker is flying and back in the run of things after his own defeat to Adesanya, but this bout is now more about Gastelum’s redemption than Whittaker’s.
The Aussie has cemented his contender status with wins over Till and Jared Cannonier and is already established as #1 in the rankings. Gastelum though needs this win to be talked about in a positive way once again.
Defeat puts him back to where he was before the Heinisch win, clawing his way back into the positives against lower-ranked opposition and just as an after-thought in the title picture. A win though, and he’s right amongst the conversation.
While it shouldn’t be enough to outright earn him a title fight against Adesanya considering the run Marvin Vettori is on at the moment, it would likely set him up for another big contender fight which would likely see him get said shot with a win.
He needs to find the form of his prime run in the middleweight division where he won four of five with powerful striking, good ground game and cardio that could go the distance. He has the skillset and mentality, but he’s always fallen just short against the very top guys and that must change at UFC Vegas 24.