The Film Room: Kelvin Gastelum

By Kevin Wilson Apr 10, 2019
The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 236 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

Kelvin Gastelum will draw the most significant opportunity of his career when he takes on Israel Adesanya for the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title in the UFC 236 co-headliner on Saturday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Gastelum, 27, has compiled a 10-3 record with one no-contest inside the UFC. Early in his career, he was a short, stocky and undersized welterweight who relied on his wrestling skills to get the job done. Today, Gastelum relies on hand speed, boxing basics and angles to topple opponents.

“The Ultimate Fighter 17” winner supplies the material for this edition of The Film Room.

The MMA world was first introduced to Gastelum during his run on “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2013, when he was the youngest competitor to ever compete on the show and the biggest underdog in history to reach and win an “Ultimate Fighter” final. Watching Gastelum then and seeing him now is like watching a completely different fighter. Throughout his run, he often just ran in to initiate grappling exchanges before the opponent could hit him. Now, he is light on his feet, constantly feinting and intelligently picking his spots to come in and uncork his hands. He has developed a lovely jab that he uses to cut off opponents and trap them against the cage or to simply set up his favorite 1-2 combo.

Gastelum does not have a lot of variety in his striking, but he does not need it, either. As a southpaw, he can land the left straight down the middle against an orthodox opponent, and when fighting a southpaw like Johnny Hendricks, he will arch the punch over the opponent’s lead arm. His hand speed and understanding of angles is what allows him to land the 1-2 with ease. Consider how he will often jab and take an angle to his right to set up the left straight against an orthodox opponent. Against southpaws, he will alternate between inside or outside angles of the opponent’s guard to land the left.

He will also switch up the jab with a lead hook while taking the same angles to set up the left straight. Gastelum seems to use the lead hook more against fellow southpaws, but he has shown he can land it in open or closed guard.

Another setup for the left hand he occasionally uses is a dipping lead uppercut. He managed to land it with impunity against Tim Kennedy but has not shown it much outside of that fight, despite his success. Gastelum will dip to his right while taking an outside angle and throwing the uppercut to create a dominant position for the left.

Other than perfecting the basics, Gastelum’s greatest asset is his pacing. With a light bounce of the feet and a healthy dose of feints, he manages to back opponents to the cage and unload with a combo before resetting and doing it all over again. He stays patient and sticks to his simple 1-2 while never overextending and leaving himself out of position to defend. Patience in moments like those is rare for any fighter, let alone someone so young.

Since he is almost always the smaller fighter, Gastelum likes to set an intense pace at which he can use his speed and cardio to overwhelm opponents. This type of style means he is usually the leading attacker, but he has shown decent countering ability when his opponents move first. His most famous counter and his best knockout to date came against Michael Bisping in 2017. As Bisping overextended on a right hand and abandoned his stance, Gastelum managed to slip the punch and come back with a counter lead hook to left straight that ended the fight.

Although he started off as a wrestler, we do not see much of Gastelum’s grappling these days unless it is on the defensive. He gets taken down easily, but he has fantastic scrambling and the ability to get back to his feet with a tripod get-up. He also has four rear-naked choke victories on his record, so opponents can never underestimate him when the fight hits the ground. Advertisement


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