May 14, 2018

Kelvin Gastelum's Development Must Be Recreated With New Prospects

By Raphael Garcia

Kelvin Gastelum has continued to overcome odds throughout his professional career. After being the last man to be selected during The Ultimate Fighter Season 17, he would go on to reach the finals and defeat heavy favorite Uriah Hall. Saturday night at UFC 224, he snatched away a win from consummate middleweight contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, solidifying his place on the short list of competitors in the proverbial mix for a title shot.

Looking at Gastelum’s run to title contention, his resume includes big wins at awkward times. Many will try to discredit the victories that came over the likes of Michael Bisping, Johny Hendricks, and Nate Marquardt, as they came at late points in their respective careers. But this is merely the result of Gastelum playing his role as a young fighter pushing his way through the rankings. Too often veteran fighters find a way to hang on to positions high in the rankings, keeping younger fighters from breaking through to the top.

Jacare, a former Strikeforce champion, was such a fighter headed into Saturday. The split decision victory for Gastelum wasn’t decisive, but it was enough to create a narrative for him in the hunt for a title shot. The hiccup that occurred against Chris Weidman at UFC on Fox 25 shouldn’t need to be avenged, as Weidman hasn’t fought since scoring that submission victory last July; Gastelum, on the other hand, has picked up two wins.

Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker are scheduled for a rematch at UFC 225. As this fight approaches, it’s important for the UFC to plan around a potential pullout, as both competitors have done so in the past. If both men are healthy and compete, Gastelum should be considered the next guy to stand across from one of them in the Octagon. But if either is forced out of the fight, then Kelvin’s name should be called to fill in for one of them and earn his first title shot.

Gastelum has made the most of his five-year run in the UFC. He stands out as an example of the way that good booking and sufficient time to develop can serve a young fighter. And at 26 years of age, he still has a lot more time to grow into an even more improved fighter. After every win and loss, his next fight represented a proper response. Lose a close one to Tyron Woodley, fight a dangerous but past his prime Marquardt. Lose another close fight to Neil Magny, and face a former champion struggling with weight issues in Hendricks. Each time he’s been given an opportunity to rebound, he’s done just that. As the UFC continues to build up new fighters across multiple divisions, looking at the promotion's treatment of Gastelum provides a clear case study of the organization doing things the right way.

It's possible that Kelvin Gastelum may need one more victory before he’s truly considered the #1 contender to the middleweight title. But his ability to pick up a win at UFC 224 shows that his development as a fighter is moving at a sufficient pace and he could find himself at the top of the middleweight division before long.

UFC 224
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza: Kelvin Gastelum def. Jacare Souza via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).

UFC 224: Nunes vs. Pennington took place May 12, 2018 at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Click HERE for more UFC 224 Post-Fight Analysis

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