For five years, Kelvin Gastelum tried his luck in the UFC middleweight division, facing numerous former champions, including Michael Bisping, Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker.
After picking up a first-round knockout victory over Bisping in 2017, and earning Fight of the Night honors against Jacare Souza six months later, Gastelum got the opportunity to challenge Israel Adesanya for the interim middleweight strap at UFC 236. In an epic, back-and-forth clash with one of the division’s best, Gastelum fell just short in attaining his ultimate goal: winning a UFC title.
Despite showcasing one of the most memorable performances in UFC’s 30-year history, the loss to Adesanya kicked off a series of defeats that pushed Gastelum further and further from the title picture. Gastelum suffered four defeats in his next five fights. While three of Gastelum’s losses came against either a former champion or former title challenger – Robert Whittaker, Darren Till and Jared Cannonier – something needed to change.
Having picked up a few injuries that required surgery, Gastelum removed himself from competition for nearly two years, from August 2021 to April 2023. During that time, Gastelum got as close to injury-free as a professional fighter can, and reentered the middleweight division with those setbacks in the rear-view mirror.
Kelvin Gastelum Fight Week Interview | UFC Austin
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Kelvin Gastelum Fight Week Interview | UFC Austin
“I feel like I’ve lost a couple years [of my career],” Gastelum said as a result of his injuries. “I did lose a couple years because of those injuries, but it is what it is. I’m here now and we’re making the best out of it. This is a new era of the Kelvin Gastelum trajectory. I’m remotivated, reinvigorated, and it’s going to be a fun couple of years now.”
In April, Gastelum faced Chris Curtis in his return to the Octagon. From an outside perspective, Gastelum looked the sharpest he’d been in the last few years. However, Gastelum believes it was far from what he ultimately wants to show fans inside the Octagon.
“That was a version of me coming off a two-year layoff and surgeries: mouth surgery, knee surgery,” Gastelum said. “That wasn’t the best version of me. I remember I worked very hard to earn my place that night and I feel like I did that.”
Even though he picked up an impressive win, it still wasn’t good enough in Gastelum’s eyes, and he felt like he needed to make one more change to try and reach his maximum potential. This Saturday, Gastelum will drop down to 170 pounds for the first time since fighting Neil Magny in 2015.
“I think I just needed to make the decision on my own,” Gastelum said of moving down to welterweight. “This is a personal decision that you need to make on your own. What kind of commitment do you want to make to the sport? I realized that one day, this window will close, and it is closing; I’m getting older, I’m not getting younger. I want to create the best possibilities for me to become a world champion.”
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“This is always my rightful weight class. I stayed up at middleweight because I had success, and I did fight for the title. Eventually, I just got tired of fighting these big dudes. I’m literally physically tired of fighting these big monsters, so we changed it up and dedicated ourselves to the diet a little bit more and [now] we fight at our rightful weight class.”
Gastelum, who’s currently the UFC’s No. 11 ranked middleweight contender, wasted no time to test himself in a stacked welterweight division. Originally scheduled to face No. 5 ranked Shavkat Rakhmonov in September, Gastelum was forced to postpone his return to 170 pounds after suffering an open fracture on his nose in training.
Instead, Gastelum will face No. 9-ranked Sean Brady this Saturday at UFC Fight Night: Dariush vs Tsarukyan. Brady, who boasts an impressive 15-1 professional MMA record, is looking to bounce back from his first loss against Belal Muhammad in October 2022.
“I was going to jump in deeper into the pool,” Gastelum said of fighting Rakhmonov. “But you know, injuries happen. I want to jump into the deep end. This is where I belong, and I want to show that on Saturday.
“To be honest, up until I got matched up with him, I hadn’t really seen him fight a whole lot other than the Belal Muhammad fight. He’s a dangerous fighter; he brings the fight, brings a wrestling game, brings good jiu-jitsu game. He’s a dangerous guy.”
UFC Fight Night: Dariush vs Tsarukyan took place live from Moody Center in Austin, Texas on December 2, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!