The Film Room: Kelvin Gastelum

By Kevin Wilson Oct 31, 2019
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Kelvin Gastelum will attempt to avoid the first two-fight losing streak of his career when he confronts Darren Till in the UFC 244 co-main event on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York. Gastelum last competed in April, when he lost a five-round unanimous decision to Israel Adesanya in a battle over the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight crown. A rematch with the now-undisputed champion could be in the offing if he manages to make a statement against Till.

Gastelum’s exploits are under the microscope in this edition of The Film Room.

Early in his career, Gastelum would often just run at his opponents to initiate grappling exchanges before they could hit him. Now, he is light on his feet, constantly feinting and creating angles for his quick straight left down the middle. The main source of his striking success comes from a jab he uses in a variety of ways. Notice how he likes to jab while taking an inside or outside angle to find the range for his left hand. He also likes to double up on the jab to back the opponent to the cage and will occasionally use it as a counter against aggressive counterparts. Gastelum keeps his lead hand low to defend takedowns, but it also allows his jabs and other lead-hand strikes to come in at an odd angle. When a strike is coming up at you instead of straight, it is harder to see coming, which is why Gastelum has so much success with it. Now that he is a smaller middleweight and has some of the fastest hands in the division, the jab is an even more effective weapon.

Gastelum does not have a lot of variety in his striking, but with his timing and accuracy, he does not need it. As a southpaw, he always looks for a straight left down the middle in the open guard, and when he fights a fellow southpaw in the closed guard, he will arch the punch over the opponent’s lead arm. Gastelum has been the shorter fighter in every one of his fights, so he had to learn how to use his speed and angles to land his punches. He almost never attacks on a straight line, and the persistent bounce in his feet allows him to quickly cover distance while alternating between inside and outside angles.

Gastelum will also switch up the jab with a lead hook while taking the same angles to set up the left straight. He seems to use the lead hook more against fellow southpaws, but he has shown he can land it in the 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. Notice how 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 1-2 down the middle 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, and it seems doubtful we will see it in this fight with Till. He gets taken down easily, but he has fantastic scrambling and the ability to get back to his feet with a tripod get-up. Gastelum also has four rear-naked choke victories on his record, so opponents can never underestimate him when the fight hits the ground.

Adesanya and Till have somewhat similar styles in that they both rely on their length. They also have similar stances and footwork, although Adesanya’s footwork is much more advanced. Till might be a better counterstriker, but his backward movement and defense are lacking, so expect Gastelum to have much more success with his leading attacks. Something else interesting about this fight: Both men are southpaws. Gastelum has put on some of the best performances of his career against fellow southpaws, while Till has only fought orthodox fighters since joining the UFC. Since Till is used to fighting in the open guard, it will be really interesting to see how he deals with a southpaw and if his usual tactics will work against someone as smart as Gastelum. Advertisement


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