TUF 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum wasn’t supposed to be where he is right now heading into his UFC Fight Night 27 bout against Brian Melancon from Indianapolis. He was the last pick of the entire draft, chosen by Chael Sonnen, and he was a decided underdog in every single one of his fights on the show.
But that didn’t matter to Gastelum, who dispatched Bubba McDaniel, Collin Hart, and Josh Samman in devastating fashion to shock the world and earn a bout against Uriah Hall, the impressive striker who everyone was already lining up as the next Middleweight champion. When he beat Hall with a grinding split decision at the TUF 17 Finale, jaws dropped. The unknown fighter from Yuma, Arizona, wasn’t even supposed to be there. However, he was, and now it’s time to show what he can really do as a true part of the UFC roster. Scary thing is, Gastelum was fighting at a weight class above where he truly should be.
Now, he’s enlisted the help of famed diet coach Mike Dolce to help him make the cut down to his new home at Welterweight. Gastelum decided to make the cut after his fight with Hall, where he noticed that he felt a sizeable strength disadvantage at Middleweight. Gastelum had never followed a strict diet as a fighter, so the whole process is new and strange to me.
If he can do it effectively, however, he’ll have a strength advantage of his own to enjoy, and there’s a ton of potentially enticing fights available for him at 170. He’ll get his start against Melancon, who was last seen destroying Seth Baczynski at UFC 160, this Wednesday night. Although Melancon isn’t the most well known Welterweight on the planet, he’s very dangerous. He has power in his strikes and love to engage in slugfests. Gastelum never shies away from a brawl, so his Welterweight debut could turn out to be an action-packed war.
If he gets past Melancon, Gastelum will have his hands full with a division full of talented, worthy contenders all jockeying for a spot in a crowded list. The TUF winner has good wrestling, but it will truly be tested in the deep waters of the UFC Welterweight talent pool.
Can he swim with the sharks there? My guess would have to be yes. He already proved every single person who doubted him wrong during his highly improbable run as Chael Sonnen’s pupil, and that was against competition much larger than those he’ll be facing in the Octagon. Gastelum is a gritty fighter whose single best attribute may not be flashy striking or unstoppable takedowns, but rather an unshakable will to win. That’s something that you can’t teach or coach, but Gastelum certainly exhibits it in his fights.
He made a good move by deciding to cut down to Welterweight, he just has to make sure that the drop doesn’t leave him too drawn or exhausted so he can utilize a strength advantage rather than get gassed early. He’s got the right coaches and mindset to do so, and Melancon will be a great early gauge to see how effective he will be at Welterweight.
If he can get by Melancon with another impressive finish added to his undefeated record, Gastelum’s hype train will be in full effect. Future bouts in the stacked UFC 170 lb. arena could turn out to be some of the best battles of the year with Gastelum involved. Can he fight on to the Top-10 in arguably the toughest division in MMA?
Only time will tell, but if history tells us one thing, it’s not to doubt Gastelum along the way.