From last pick on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight contender, success came fast for once-unheralded grinder Kelvin Gastelum.
But oh, how things can change in an instant.
The 23-year-old phenom took a five-fight winning streak into battle with former Strikeforce 170-pound champion Tyron Woodley; his biggest test to date at UFC 183 back in January. Unfortunately, he failed to make weight and fought with flu-like symptoms.
That led to his boss, UFC President Dana White, to announce that he "can't have this kid fight at 170 again" and subsequently sent him packing to middleweight, where he will face another former champion in Nate Marquardt. The weight-cutting blunder was the second of Gastelum's UFC career.
"I want to put that whole experience behind me and learn from it – but just put it behind me," Gastelum told MMAjunkie Radio. "It was a horrible weekend for me. It was a close decision. I was sick. I shouldn’t have taken the fight, but I took it anyway. I just want to put it behind me. It was a sh-tty, sh-tty weekend – you guys have no idea."
The TUF season 17 winner fell to Woodley in an uneventful three-round snoozefest, in which Gastelum failed to land a takedown or any meaningful offense. He suffered the first loss of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career in the process.
Gastelum went from student to teacher in a heartbeat, as UFC tapped him to coach opposite fellow TUF alum Efrain Escudero on the second edition of TUF: Latin America, following the loss to "The Chosen One." When UFC 188 rolls around, which takes place inside Arena Mexico on Sat., June 13, 2015, the Mexican-American will have been out of action a little over four months.
When Gastelum, a grappling specialist, makes his return to the cage before what will likely be a warm welcome by the Mexican crowd, he will do so with a renewed focus and attitude.
"I’m still learning," he said. "I’m still very, very young. I’m still growing as a person and as an athlete. I’ve learned a lot and I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface as to what my real potential is, and I feel great."
As for a potential return to welterweight, where he is most comfortable, it will come at the discretion of White. The former top-five stud picked up four wins, including two finishes, in his first home at 170 pounds. Since January, Gastelum has seen his ranking plummet in his former division to No. 10.
"He’s the one who forced me (to go up to middleweight), so I’ve got to work with him to let me go back down to welterweight," said Gastelum.
If (and when) his journey back to welterweight takes flight, Gastelum will be doing so without the services of expert MMA dietitian Mike Dolce. Prior to his tilt with Woodley, a rift between both the Gastelum camp and Dolce had been reported.
Gastelum previously worked with Dolce on his first two cuts down to 170.
"Working with Dolce was awesome – I have no issues with Dolce," he said. "We just had some issues with my old manager and (Dolce) being paid. There were just some issues, and some conflicts, and I didn’t continue working with Dolce because of that. I wanted to, but things got in the way. There was a lot of miscommunication. But Dolce got paid, and we’re on good terms now. I thought I could do it on my own. Before I got in the UFC, I knew nothing about nutrition. After I worked with Dolce, I thought I could handle it myself – but it’s hard."
All the aforementioned talk of Gastelum continuing his UFC career at welterweight is on hold until he makes it past the dangerous veteran Marquardt. Nate "The Great" carries a 1-5 record into his bout with Gastelum. During that period, he has been downed by both Hector Lombard and Jake Ellenberger.
Gastelum will most certainly have youth on his side, but he will be at a height disadvantage when he steps into the Octagon against the 36-year-old. If his resume is any indication, no task is too tall for the upstart contender.