Kelvin Gastelum & the Constant Chase for Stability

Ever since he defeated Uriah Hall to win The Ultimate Fighter, Kelvin Gastelum's UFC career has been far from ordinary. In fact, the circumstances surrounding that TUF finale were rather symbolic of that trend in hindsight. Uriah Hall entered with the aura of a destroyer and after some highlight reel knockout wins on the reality show, was even being compared to the then celebrated champion Anderson Silva by some. Comparatively Gastelum entered with little hype behind him and at just 21 years of age stood as a rather unimposing underdog. None of that mattered inside the cage though as the two went back and forth in a very competitive fight that Gastelum eventually won via split decision.

Though it wasn't exactly expected going in, Kelvin Gastelum was now the latest Ultimate Fighter winner and he’d beaten one of the show’s most feared contestants to do it. Now officially apart of the UFC roster, the seemingly undersized Gastelum dropped to 170lbs and got off to a strong start, quickly submitting Brian Melancon in August 2013. The competition would soon step up for the young prospect though as he next took on UFC veteran Rick Story. After a grueling 15 minutes Gastelum once again emerged as the close split decision winner. It had been the toughest test of the TUF winner’s young career so far but he’d emerged the winner regardless, maintaining his undefeated record in the process.

Now 2-0 at 170lbs, Gastelum’s ascension of the Welterweight division seemed inevitable but would quickly start meeting its first road bumps. He would be overweight for his bout with Nico Musoke, disappointingly weighing in 172.75lbs. Nonetheless, Gastelum came out the victor anyway, taking a hard-fought unanimous decision win. Gastelum next righted his weight wrongs as he made the 170lbs limit for his bout with long-time contender Jake Ellenberger, a fight he impressively finished in the very first round. It seemed to be a breakout win and with his weight issues just a hiccup thus far, Gastelum was now 4-0 at 170lbs and found himself as a legitimate contender.

For that very reason he’d next be matched with Tyron Woodley in a fight with major title implications. Unfortunately though, Gastelum’s prior weight issues would return in a sizeable way as he weighed in at a startling 180lbs. Somehow the fight went on though and in the end it would be an unsurprisingly lackluster affair. Woodley eventually came out the split decision winner, taking Gastelum’s undefeated record from him in the process. There’s never any shame in losing to a fighter as talented as Woodley, especially by split decision but it was the weigh-in result that really affected Kelvin’s stock. His stock had plummeted and his time at Welterweight was over, or at least for now it was.

Forced back up to Middleweight, Gastelum would immediately get back in the win column, dominating Nate Marquardt before the veteran quit on his stool after the 2nd round. Though he’d got the victory up at 185lbs, Gastelum’s focus was still on the Welterweight division and that’s where he quickly returned, next fighting Neil Magny in a main event in Mexico. The consensus heading in was that Gastelum’s best work would likely come early but on fight night it would prove to be the opposite as Neil Magny used his well-rounded game to seemingly take the first three rounds in close but clear fashion. However, Gastelum scored a knockdown in the 4th and took over from that point forward.

Gastelum was unable to secure the finish though and for that reason came out officially as the split decision loser, even if some felt he’d done enough to earn a draw. On the bright-side, Gastelum had made the return to 170lbs without missing weight and he’d achieve that feat again for his next fight with Johnny Hendricks, even if ‘Big Rigg’ missed weight himself. Regardless, Gastelum won that fight by decision, scoring his first win at Welterweight in almost two years. Now once again edging towards contender status, Gastelum was given a tremendous opportunity as he was matched with Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at the first ever MMA show to take place at Madison Square Garden.

However, the fight wouldn't come to fruition as Gastelum was so far away from 170lbs that he didn't even step on the scale. With his MSG bout devastatingly canceled, Gastelum was once again forced back up to Middleweight. Luckily, it would less than a month later that he re-entered the octagon, fighting Tim Kennedy at 185lbs in December 2016. Away from all the rightful controversy surrounding his weight, Gastelum reminded the world of his capabilities inside the cage as he completely dictated the action before eventually closing the show in the 3rd round. Officially back at Middleweight, Gastelum kept the forward momentum going as he next stopped Vitor Belfort early in a main event in Brazil.

As is symbolic of his whole UFC career though, other stuff would take the headlines as the Belfort win was overturned due to Gastelum failing a drug test for marijuana. For obvious reasons no one points to the test failure as being important to Gastelum’s impressive performance but that wasn't what mattered in this scenario. The test failure’s real effect was that the suspension that stemmed from it cost Gastelum his fight with Anderson Silva, taking a major opportunity from him and halting his newly found momentum all at once. Fortunately, the suspension would rightly only be a brief one and this Saturday night he returns to take on Chris Weidman in a FOX main event.

Weidman enters the fight on a real rough run of form but still has previous credentials as an elite Middleweight fighter considering his prior run as UFC champion. If Gastelum comes up short by a distance here it likely continues his seemingly never-ending chase for some career consistency and stability. It’s still unclear what Gastelum’s ceiling is at the top end of MMA, let alone at 185lbs and that’s why it’s so important that he buckles down sooner rather than later and really makes the most of his latest run up at Middleweight. It’s been so far so good for the most part and now the focus shifts to Saturday’s pivotal contender clash. If Kelvin Gastelum’s future is at Middleweight one has to ask, how bright really is that future?

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