It’s getting more and more difficult for Kelvin Gastelum to leave the middleweight division.
“The Ultimate Fighter 17” winner authored an emphatic victory over Michael Bisping in the UFC Fight Night 122 headliner, knocking out the recently dethroned 185-pound champion 2:30 into the opening round of their encounter in Shanghai on Saturday. After Anderson Silva was removed from the main event due to a potential anti-doping violation, Bisping stepped in on short notice just three weeks after being submitted by Georges St. Pierre at UFC 217.
“This is the biggest win of my career,” Gastelum said in the Octagon. “I’m gonna try not to get emotional. I have a huge amount of respect for Bisping for stepping up.”
It didn’t take long for Gastelum to strike the decisive blow. The Arizonan was consistent with his forward pressure during the abbreviated contest, and when Bisping missed on a pair of punches, Gastelum capitalized with a crushing left hook to drop his foe. Five to six follow-up right hands sealed the deal.
“I expected coming into this fight I would knock Michael Bisping out. I’m very confident in my abilities,” Gastelum said. “I have a lot of respect for Mike ]Bisping], I remember watching him on ‘The Ultimate Fighter;’ I’ve been following his career for a long time. Somebody had to go down tonight, and its better than him than me.”
Gastelum has now unofficially won four of his five middleweight appearances — a stoppage of Vitor Belfort at UFC Fight Night 106 was overturned due to a positive marijuana test — and he rebounded nicely from a third-round submission defeat to Chris Weidman this past summer. Considering that Bisping was only just recently the champion, Gastelum believes he’s earned a spot at one of the top names in the division.
“I heard Robert Whittaker needs a main event challenge in Australia for February, so I’m up for that challenge,” Gastelum said. “I’ve got my sights on the middleweight title. We’re both two young guys and I think I should be next.”
UFC 221 takes place in Perth, Australia, on Feb. 11 (Feb. 10 in the United States). Prior to UFC 217, it had been rumored that the promotion was targeting Whittaker vs. the Bisping-St. Pierre winner for the main event. However, St. Pierre has been non-committal so far about defending the 185-pound title he just won.
“I’m not here to wait on anybody,” Gastelum said. “I’m here to focus on my career and where I need to be — which is the middleweight title.”
Whittaker, meanwhile, captured interim gold with a five-round verdict over Yoel Romero at UFC 213 on July 8. The 26-year-old Australian has won eight straight in the Octagon.
“GSP said it himself: Anything can happen in the sport of MMA. I feel like Robert Whittaker and I should be next,” Gastelum said. “We’re two young guys, haven’t even hit our prime yet. I just beat the guy who was the guy, so I feel I should be next.”