On Weds., Aug. 28, 2013, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum will make his Welterweight debut when he steps into the cage at Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Fight Night 27 to face Brian Melancon. The event, airing live on FOX Sports 1 from the Bankers Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind., will be a true test of how effective Gastelum is at a lower weight class.
The unlikely contract winner from Yuma, Ariz., found a ton of success during his TUF 17 run at Middleweight, but noted that he felt a strength disadvantage at times. Most agreed that a cut down to 170 pounds was in the cards for Gastelum, and he followed suit directly after his win "six-figure" contract-winning performance over Uriah Hall in April.
It's going to be exciting to see just how good Gastelum truly is against the top fighters that frequent the Octagon, and the veteran Melancon will be his first test. Both fighters come into the bout riding win streaks, with Gastelum still undefeated (6-0) in his young mixed martial arts (MMA) career, while Melancon has won his last two contests to improve to 7-2. Each combatant has a penchant for finishing their wins, as they only have a total of three decision victories between them.
It could end quickly in Indianapolis, so let's take a look at what it's going to take for Kelvin Gastelum vs. Brian Melancon winner to have his had raised:
Record: 6-0 overall, 1-0 UFC
Key Wins: Uriah Hall (TUF 17 Finale)
Key Losses: None
How he got here: Gastelum's rise to fame has been highly publicized, as he was the highly improbable winner of TUF after being the final fighter to be chosen by coach Chael Sonnen. Before the show made his popularity explode, Gastelum ran up a 5-0 record in smaller Arizona-based shows, finishing every one of his opponents.
His run on the seventeenth season of TUF began with a fight against the heavily favored Greg Jackson product Bubba McDaniel, but that didn't seem to faze Gastelum. He surprised "Bubba" with a second round rear naked choke to advance to the quarterfinals.
Next up, he squared off against touted grappler Collin Hart, once again as the heavy underdog. Gastelum astonished his doubters for a second time, knocking Hart out in the first round. The win put many people on noticed, and made Gastelum a legitimate contender on the show after many had written him off. Still, he was the underdog for a third time when he fought Josh Samman in the semifinals. Not to be outdone, Gastelum again finished his opponent with a rear naked choke.
The buzz surrounding Gastelum was in full effect when he cemented a spot in the finals. However, his opponent Hall had even more hype around him. The Jamaican striking prospect had sent notice to everyone on TUF 17, knocking opponents out left and right with strikes that appeared to materialize out of a kung fu movie. Gastelum was stoic in the face of danger, and ground out a close split decision over Hall.
The contract was his.
Shortly thereafter, he announced a move down to Welterweight to avoid any strength and size advantage his opponents might have over him at Middleweight.
How he gets it done: Gastelum will have his hands full with Melancon, who's not widely known but very tough to finish. A gritty, fast-paced matchup is what Gastelum tends to instigate, and it's likely that Melancon will oblige. But that will definitely be to Gastelum's advantage, who has shown excellent wrestling in his short mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
He also has the striking and submission skill to complement his wrestling base, and it will all come into play at UFC Fight Night 27. The weight cut could give Gastelum a decided strength advantage when he faces off with Melancon, but it could find him a bit drawn if the drop doesn't go as easily as planned.
Gastelum has shown a ridiculously effective rear naked choke, using it to obtain two of his wins over his favored opponents on TUF. If he can use his wrestling base to get Melancon to the ground and take his back, we could see a quick submission to make Gastelum's Welterweight debut a success.
If he can't he'll have to avoid the dangerous strikes of Melancon. We've never really seen Gastelum rocked, so it'll be interesting to see how he fares in the face of adversity. But he won his UFC contract while staring down just that, there's a good chance that he shines. His newfound strength in a new division should assist him in securing some good takedowns.
Record: 7-2 overall, 1-0 UFC
Key Wins: Seth Baczynski (UFC 162)
Key Losses: Isaac Vallie-Flagg (Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum)
How he got here: On the other side of the Octagon, Melancon rode a much less ballyhooed road to his fight against Gastelum. Melancon got into this bout by replacing the injured Paulo Thiago.
Although Melancon has only had a total of nine professional bouts, he's still a veteran of Bellator, Strikeforce, and the UFC. That's a distinction that few fighters can lay claim to, and it's a testament to Melancon's rarely discussed abilities.
At the same time, it's tough to truly gauge where he's at with his overall development as an MMA fighter, because his toughest opponent was Seth Baczynski at July's UFC 162. He won that fight with a technical knockout and now has a step up in competition when he faces the converted Middleweight.
How he gets it done: Melancon is a tough fighter who likes to get in the pocket and throw power shots. He's known for his exciting, hard-hitting style. There's a good chance that pitting him against a gritty fighter like Gastelum will provide a rousing bout for the fans, because neither has been known to back away from a brawl.
His takedown defense will have to be in full effect to avoid Gastelum's takedown attempts, but if he can, he'll have an opportunity to land a fight-changing power shot. If he ends up getting taken down, there's a possibility he could go for a submission, but it's a small one.
Melancon has the opportunity to notch a win over a big name in Gastelum. He definitely possesses the power to ruin Gastelum's drop down in weight, and he's hardly scared to turn the fight into a slugfest. If he can avoid getting controlled on the ground, Melancon could turn on the heat and win a firefight.
Bottom Line: Gastelum looks keep his hype train rolling with an impressive showing in his Welterweight debut. He's in a sort of similar position as Urijah Faber was at UFC Fight Night 26 when he fought Yuri Alcantara. His opponent isn't that well known or highly ranked, but definitely has the potential to cause problems. To combat that, Gastelum's going to have remained sharp and focused so he doesn't run into any of Melancon's bombs.
This fight will be a good test of how UFC-ready Gastelum truly is. Melancon looks to play the spoiler and will no doubt lay it all on the line. If he can avoid being smothered, he'll have a chance to pull off the upset. Both fighters have a relatively small amount of fights under their belt, so a win at Bankers Fieldhouse will give the victor a two-fight win streak in the ultra competitive Welterweight division. Gastelum look to utilize a newfound strength and size advantage in the lighter weight class.
Will his decision to cut down pay dividends?
Can Kelvin Gastelum continue his undefeated run in a new weight class at UFC Fight Night 27? Tell us your predictions below!