There were plenty of surprising results last night at UFC 244, which proved to be a highly entertaining night of fights. Did anyone expect Corey Anderson or Kevin Lee to walk away with massive first-round knockout wins over their favored opponents? I’ll fully admit that I did not.
Odds-wise, however, the biggest shock of the night was Darren Till defeating Kelvin Gastelum in the co-main event. Till entered the bout following a pair of stoppage losses at a lower weight classes, and most expected Gastelum — the man who nearly defeated Israel Adesanya back in April — to come out on top.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Till put together a really composed game plan and pulled out what should have been a pretty clear decision victory. The judges mucked that bit up, but he did manage to fight with great intelligence and take away Gastelum’s best weapons.
As the larger, longer striker, Till wanted this bout to take place in two ranges: kicking distance and in the clinch. In the very first exchange of the fight, Gastelum looked to leap forward with his favorite 3-2. Till latched onto the Muay Thai clinch, effectively shutting down his opponent’s boxing range.
That exact sequence played out repeatedly. In between those clinches, Till ripped into his foe’s lead leg. Occasionally, his longer 1-2 connected cleanly. It wasn’t a ton, but it was enough to beat Kelvin Gastelum by a fair margin.
The win came far too simply. It shouldn’t be that easy to throw off an elite fighter with the incredible talent of Gastelum. Yet that’s pretty much what Till accomplish: he took away Gastelum’s favorite weapon, and there wasn’t much of a backup plan.
On the strength of his incredible natural abilities — his speed, punching power, and toughness — Gastelum has accomplished incredible things. However, based on his last two losses, it’s becoming clear that Gastelum is nowhere close to reaching his full potential. Since jumping up to 185 pounds, Gastelum has showed little in the way of development, nor has he presented his opponents with any problem other than his dangerous left hand.
One has to ask why Gastelum has failed to change much about his game? King’s MMA and Rafael Cordeiro are an excellent team and coach, definitely not the problem here. Perhaps it is simply because Gastelum has achieved so much with his strategy of setting up the left hand. After all, he did earn a title shot and drop Adesanya.
Yet, the weigh-in controversy on Friday morning hints that there’s another potential reason: discipline. Based on his size and stature, it really should not be that much of a struggle for Gastelum to make 185 lbs., yet it always comes down to the wire. Weight was an issue at Welterweight and Middleweight both, a clear sign that Gastelum simply does not manage his diet well.
When Gastelum was winning, it didn’t matter that he cheated on his diet and relied on one tactic constantly. Now that the cracks are beginning to show, it’s up to Gastelum to make a change, or he’ll never live up to his full potential.
For complete UFC 244: “Diaz vs. Masvidal” results and play-by-play, click HERE!
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