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UFC 236 card: Kelvin Gastelum vs Israel Adesanya full fight preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight contenders Kelvin Gastelum and Israel Adesanya will collide over interim gold this Saturday (April 13, 2019) at UFC 236 from State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

It’s been an odd ride for Gastelum, who has proven his talent numerous times over to the point that he could be a simultaneous title threat in two separate divisions if only his diet were under control. As is, Gastelum has proven an exceptionally quick Middleweight contender, using his piston of a left hand to level foes with remarkable consistency. Meanwhile, Adesanya’s rise has been remarkable. The decorated kickboxer signed to the UFC just 15 months ago and has since captured five victories in the cage. Perhaps more impressive has been his quick technical development — the Adesanya that debuted was nowhere near the level of the man who thrashed Derek Brunson or styled past Brad Tavares, but those fights were only a half-year apart!

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:

Kelvin Gastelum

Record: 15-3 (1)
Key Wins: Ronaldo Souza (UFC 224), Michael Bisping (UFC on FOX 27), Johny Hendricks (UFC 200), Tim Kennedy (UFC 206), Rick Story (UFC 171)
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC on FOX 25), Tyron Woodley (UFC 183), Neil Magny (UFC Fight Night 78)
Keys to Victory: Gastelum is one of the more meat-and-potatoes fighters on the roster. His game is fairly simple: keep a high pace, maybe shoot a takedown or two, and most important, find a home for his cross. Gastelum’s excellent instincts, comfort in the pocket, and toughness all serve to make Gastelum’s limited bag of tools far more dangerous.

Back in 2013 on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), Gastelum’s strategy remained uncomplicated. However, prior to developing his timing and power further, Gastelum relied much more on his wrestling background and ability to put a frantic pace on opponents. Ultimately, it won him the season, as Gastelum out-hustled Uriah Hall and never allowed him his opportune range.

As such, it’s time to revert the dial back to the days when Gastelum used his wrestling consistently. Against Adesanya, Gastelum’s primary focus has to be pressure, which will allow him to get inside the much longer range of his foe. Unlike all of Adesanya’s past foes, Gastelum can pressure while threatening with both his killer left and strong takedown game.

Forcing elite kickboxers to defend punches and takedowns from the back foot is the best way to make a special striker look ordinary.

Israel Adesanya

Record: 16-0
Key Wins: Brad Tavares (TUF 27 Finale), Anderson Silva (UFC 234), Derek Brunson (UFC 230), Marvin Vettori (UFC on FOX 29)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Whenever a decorated kickboxer like Adesanya transitions over to the cage, two big questions rise up. First and foremost, can the striker defend a shot? Just as important, will all that kickboxing skill translate over to the smaller gloves and general wackiness of mixed martial arts (MMA)?

Five UFC victories in, Adesanya has pretty firmly answered both questions.

This will be a battle of range. Adesanya is much, much longer and taller than Gastelum. Gastelum must force his way forward to make this a fight, whereas Adesanya must punish him to the point that Gastelum goes down or gives up on pressure.

Adesanya is well equipped to dismantle an opponent at range. Whenever Gastelum is not actively punching forward, Adesanya should be taking a page from Jon Jones and sticking his belly/knees with straight kicks. Then, when Gastelum does make his charge, each counter punch Adesanya lands will slowly deter him from trying again.

Bottom Line: We can debate the value of interim titles all day, but a gold strap is a gold strap!

When Gastelum was forced away from Welterweight, he was closing in on a title shot at 170 pounds. The division change seemed to end Gastelum’s title hopes in the eyes of many, particularly when Chris Weidman overpowered and submitted him in 2017. Despite that loss, Gastelum has stayed the path and trusted in his process, resulting in this title shot.

A title win is a strong argument that Gastelum has lived up to his potential despite the weight cutting issues.

The stakes are a bit different for Adesanya, as this is a potentially star-making performance. Moving through the ranks so quickly and defeating Anderson Silva in the main event of a pay-per-view (PPV) has already grown his stock quite a bit. If Adesanya is able to win in style once more and leave the Octagon with a belt around his shoulder, the outspoken New Zealander may be the next big draw for the promotion.

A potential showdown with Whittaker in Australia for the official title is also on the line here, which could be one of the biggest fights in years.

At UFC 236, Kelvin Gastelum and Israel Adesanya will square off. Which man will leave the cage with a new belt?

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