March 10, 2017

UFC Fight Night 106: Belfort vs. Gastelum Is Smart Matchmaking

By Adam Martin

This weekend at UFC Fight Night 106, former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Vitor Belfort returns to the Octagon when he takes on emerging middleweight contender Kelvin Gastelum in the five-round main event in Fortaleza, Brazil. On the surface, it’s a fight between one fighter coming off of two straight wins and one fighter coming off of two straight losses, so in that respect it doesn’t make much sense. But if you look closer at the matchup it makes sense, and in a year when the UFC has made some very questionable matchmaking decisions so far, Belfort vs. Gastelum is smart matchmaking.

With Belfort, he’s 39 years old and clearly on the last legs of his Hall-of-Fame career. After all, he’s been knocked out in three of his last four fights, and the only man he’s beaten in the last three years is recently-retired Dan Henderson. It’s pretty fair to say that Belfort is nearly done at this point, but due to his popularity in Brazil, the UFC can still market him as a main event fighter despite his recent record. So even though his last two fights have resulted in him being knocked out, it’s still smart to headline a show with him in his native country of Brazil, because if he somehow does manage to pull off the win, then the UFC could be looking at a mega-fight rematch between Belfort and Anderson Silva in Brazil.

What’s even smarter, though, is not putting him against another aging legend and instead matching him up with Gastelum, who after thrashing Tim Kennedy and ending his career at UFC 206, looks like he could be a future middleweight title contender. Gastelum, a former Ultimate Fighter winner, is just 25 years old and is coming off of back-to-back wins over Kennedy and Johny Hendricks. Those are two big names, and adding a third straight big name in Belfort to that list would be genuinely massive for his career at this point. If Gastelum can go in there and handle Belfort with ease the same way he handled Kennedy, it won’t be long before we start talking about him as yet another 185-pound title contender.

It's clear that in 2017 under the direction of WME-IMG, the UFC is desperately looking for new stars, and the matchup between Belfort and Gastelum is an example of the correct type of matchmaking to build one, because it’s a win-win situation regardless of the outcome. If Belfort wins, then the UFC still has a star in Brazil who can headline against Silva in a rematch. If Belfort loses, he lost to a younger fighter who was expected to win, so it doesn’t look bad on him. If Gastelum wins, then the UFC has another young up-and-comer who added another big name to his resume. If Gastelum loses, it’s not a big deal because he’s already lost before, and since he’s so young the UFC can find a way to build him back up again. All-in-all, the UFC matchmakers seem to have all their bases covered with this one.

I’ve been very critical of the UFC’s matchmaking so far in 2017, and a fight like Cub Swanson vs. Artem Lobov that don’t make sense on any planet is an example of the shoddy matchmaking that I’m referring to. But a fight like Gastelum vs. Belfort is a fight that makes a whole lot of sense, and the UFC should get credit for booking this one. Now let’s just hope it’s not a snoozer like UFC 209’s Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson turned out to be.

UFC Fight Night 106: Belfort vs. Gastelum (formerly UFC Fight Night 107: Belfort vs. Gastelum) takes place March 11, 2017 at Centro de Formacao Olimpica do Nordeste in Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil.

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