Kelvin Gastelum is approaching his UFC Fight Night 122 showdown with Michael Bisping like a man who has options.
“The Ultimate Fighter 17” winner began his promotional tenure at welterweight, and while he was successful there, his repeated struggles on the scales led to a move to 185 pounds. Gastelum won his first three bouts at middleweight — a win over Vitor Belfort was later overturned due to a positive marijuana test — before falling to ex-champion Chris Weidman in his most recent outing at UFC on Fox 25 this past summer.
Still, Gastelum has often said he hopes to return to 170 pounds at some point — even against the wishes of UFC President Dana White. However, a win over Bisping, who only just recently lost the middleweight title, could alter his plans significantly.
“I feel like if I win this fight then… I just permanently put myself in a position where I’ll be fighting for the middleweight title. If I get to fight for the middleweight title then that’s ideal,” Gastelum said during a recent media call. “But I also feel like if I do the right things and I’m able to make [170 pounds] safely and healthy, then I can do it and I want to fight for that title too.”
Bisping, of course, was a short-notice replacement for Anderson Silva, who was pulled from the UFC Fight Night 122 headliner against Gastelum due to a potential anti-doping violation. The switch from Silva, who has struggled in the twilight of his career, to Bisping, who is coming off arguably the best run of his professional tenure, could be a boon for Gastelum.
“I only feel it’s an advantage career wise. Mike is obviously a former champion and he’s highly ranked. His position in the UFC is high. This is a great move for my career,” Gastelum said. “Advantage wise in the fight it’s very equal. He’s coming fresh off a camp, so I imagine he’s in good shape and he’s gonna be ready. I don’t think it’s gonna be an easy fight.”
Bisping is coming off a third-round submission loss to Georges St. Pierre in the UFC 217 main event. “The Count” had his moments, as he was able to get to his feet after being taken down and he bloodied his opponent with elbows from his back. Gastelum came away impressed with Bisping’s effort, even in defeat.
“We saw what Bisping does. He comes forward and comes to fight,” Gastelum said. “It wasn’t an easy fight. GSP said it himself, that was the hardest fight he’s ever had. You saw GSP get his back and rear-naked choke him. There’s not much to it. It was a good fight.”
But while Gastelum is intrigued with what a win over Bisping could do for his career, he refuses to limit himself to one weight class. Much depends on what happens in Shanghai on Nov. 25, and until then, Gastelum isn’t showing his hand.
“I can’t really say until after the fight. That’s when you find out what options you have and what you want to do,” he said. “That question should be asked after the fight.”
The lack of a clear direction won’t be a hindrance, Gastelum says.
“No, I feel like it gives me an advantage, If I want to go back down and challenge Tyron Woodley [for the welterweight title], I feel I can. If I win this fight it puts me right there in conversations for the title as well. I feel it’s a win-win.”