The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 winner and one of the sport's best prospects, Kelvin Gastelum, will return to 170 pounds and square off with No. 13-ranked Welterweight, Neil Magny, this Saturday (Nov. 21, 2015) inside Monterrey Arena in Monterrey, Mexico.
To date, Gastelum's biggest opponent has been himself. Because of questionable eating habits, Gastelum struggled mightily with his weight cut, causing him to have some flat performances.
Which is saying something, because Gastelum nearly won a split decision over Tyron Woodley in one of those contests.
With a new nutritionist on his side -- and the knowledge that he cannot afford to miss weight again -- Gastelum is hoping to make a statement in his first fight back at Welterweight. The 24-year-old was ranked inside the Top 10 once already, and he's looking to regain that status here.
Let's take a closer look at his skill set:
Gastelum is a very dangerous striker. His game is not particularly complex, but Gastelum has serious speed, power and enough confidence to throw that he's nonetheless a difficult fighter to out-strike.
For Southpaws, it's fairly uncommon to be a sharp jabber. Most of the time, Southpaws are faced with fighters in the opposite stance, which usually leads to hand fighting for control of the outside angle, rather than quick jabs. In fact, a lot of Southpaws end up looking awkward when faced with a fellow Southpaw, as it's simply a different style of fighting.
Gastelum, on the other hand, has a fantastic jab.
This was first put on display in Gastelum's bout with Rick Story, which was a huge test just two fights into his UFC career. Although the fight ended up being extremely close, Gastelum's jab controlled the first half of that bout. Each time the two fighters exchanged, Gastelum's speedy jab would snap Story's head back, interrupt his combinations and open up more strikes for the young prospect.
Story normally fights as a Southpaw, but he switched it up a bit and worked from both stances against Gastelum. Early on, Gastelum tore up his opponent's face with the jab despite his opponent standing Orthodox, as Gastelum would hand fight before suddenly stepping inside with a hard jab. When Story switched back to Southpaw later on, it didn't help him avoid the jab, as Gastelum now had a clear path to his opponent's face.
Perhaps most impressively is that Gastelum managed to stop his opponent's bull rushes. Story is a fighter who loves to jump inside and rip at his opponent's body with hooks, but Gastelum largely halted his opponent's forward momentum -- at least early on -- with the threat of the jab.
Follow Gastelum's jab is usually a long left straight, which Gastelum throws with quite a bit of power. Again, there's nothing too extraordinary about how Gastelum sets up his left, but he throws it aggressively and has a solid sense of distance.
In particular, Gastelum reads his opponent's defenses quite well and will find a hole with his left hand. He's rather nasty with the left uppercut, which he commonly throws as his opponent is pressed against the fence.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Gastelum's game is his kicking. Gastelum has yet to really dedicate himself to chopping his opponent down, but he commonly starts his fights with some hard inside and outside low kicks. He also managed to drop Story with a head kick, although that's not a common strike for him.
In his last bout, Gastelum showed continued improvement to his kicking game. Against Marquardt, Gastelum slammed home a few hard kicks to the body that definitely affected his opponent. Additionally, Gastelum used a step left knee to the mid-section to close the distance fully after pinning his opponent to the fence, which was a very slick technique.
Like the rest of his game, Gastelum hasn't shown any never-before-seen or particularly rare takedowns. He tends to stick to bread-and-butter techniques, but he does them with such speed and fluidity that Gastelum has nonetheless managed to takedown some excellent wrestlers.
Usually, Gastelum is looking for his double leg takedown. While he can work for the shot against the fence, Gastelum usually looks for his takedown in the center of the Octagon, where he can really explode through the shot.
A solid example of Gastelum's wrestling came in his bout with Jake Ellenberger. "The Juggernaut" tagged his foe with a hard punch and tried to swarm, but Gastelum returned with a reactive double leg. Ellenberger -- who's quite the explosive athlete himself -- defended with strong hips initially. However, Gastelum simply wouldn't be stopped, as he ran through the takedown in a sort of double leg/knee pick hybrid.
In addition, Gastelum often looks to snap his opponent's head down. While he will look for it after a failed double, which is very common in wrestling, Gastelum will often just latch onto his opponent's head directly from the regular clinch and try to drag him down immediately.
Defensively, Gastelum is a tough man to take down and even tougher to hold down. Occasionally, his striking aggression will get him in trouble with takedowns, but he's so quick to scramble back to his feet that it usually doesn't matter.
Gastelum is a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, holding submission wins over some quality opponents. For the third time, I have to reiterate: Gastelum's jiu-jitsu attack is nothing unique, but it's very effective and very dangerous.
For wrestler's learning jiu-jitsu and trying to submit fighters in MMA, the rear-naked choke has always been the go-to. It's simple and usually requires nothing else but the correct position and persistence.
In Gastelum's case, he excels at latching onto the rear naked choke during scrambles. Regardless of whether he's working from the turtle position or has just rocked his opponent standing, Gastelum is always hunting for an opportunity to dive on his opponent's neck.
Basically, Gastelum is excellent at capitalizing on small lapses in his opponent's concentration. Focus is obviously important in a fight -- particularly when the rear naked choke is in play -- but there's a lot going on in a fight. While Gastelum's opponent is trying to figure out how to block his small punches, scramble back to the feet, or recover from a knock down, Gastelum is waiting for the moment his attention shifts just enough for him to sneak his arm under the chin.
He's a ruthless opportunist, and it's won him some important fights that could've been far more difficult.
Best Chance For Success
In this bout, Gastelum needs to pressure his opponent and get inside. Magny is simply so long that trying to work from the outside would be difficult, even with Gastelum's sharp jab and improving kicking game.
Instead, Gastelum needs to put the pressure on Magny immediately. Rather than look to maintain distance, Gastelum can use his jab to herd Magny into the fence and fire off combinations of power punches into his jawline.
In addition, pressure will very likely open up takedowns for Gastelum, which would obviously be a big advantage for him. If Magny is forced into the fence, that would definitely make it easier for Gastelum to land a takedown. However, another option would be to wait until Magny returns fire -- he's not the type of fighter to just hang around and defend -- and then counter that forward movement with his usual double leg.
Will Kelvin Gastelum showcase his massive potential or can Neil Magny halt his rise?