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UFC Vegas 34, The Morning After: Kelvin Gastelum’s incredible potential stagnates

Here’s what you may have missed last night!

UFC Fight Night: Cannonier v Gastelum Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

It’s hard to describe just how great a fighter Kelvin Gastelum is.

Every six-to-12 months, I am forced to try, because that’s roughly how often The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) champ finds himself in a main event and is slotted a “Fighter on Fighter” skill breakdown. Unfortunately, year after year, those breakdowns remain largely unchanged, because Gastelum uses largely the same selection of tools as ever.

Regardless of that lack of development, what skill analysis misses — what has to be witnessed in his actual fight footage — is the intangibles. Kelvin Gastelum is an immense natural talent with great fighting instincts, and he’s paired himself with an elite camp in King’s MMA, a gym known for breeding hard-nosed scrappers.

It’s a great combination. Gastelum’s excellent instincts, that innate ability that led him to win TUF at 21 years of age, were honed further by fire. Watching his movement, timing, and grit, Gastelum indeed seems destined for gold.

#OnAMission4Gold has stood atop his Twitter profile for years and years now.

Unfortunately, Gastelum sinks further from realizing that dream with each passing year. Somewhere around 2015, Gastelum was real, real close to earning a shot at undisputed gold at 170 lbs. A split-decision vs. Tyron Woodley went against him, which did hurt, but Gastelum still seemed on the path when he bludgeoned former champion Johnny Hendricks a few fights later.

Sadly, weight management issues were frequent. Gastelum is 5’9”, and though he has a thick build, making 170 lbs. is not an unreasonable ask for his stature ... even if it is impossible now.

Permanent banishment to Middleweight did not immediately end Gastelum’s title aspirations. No, his career at 185 lbs. started very hot, as Gastelum largely blitzed through the old guard. Still, when Chris Weidman big brothered him after surviving the early storm, the cracks began to show.

In his last six bouts, Gastelum has won just a single match, a decision victory over the unranked Ian Heinisch. In all the others, he’s lost to the best the Middleweight division has to offer. Some of those defeats were close, like last night’s battle with No. 3-ranked Cannonier or his “Fight of the Year”-winner opposite the current champion, Israel Adesanya.

Robert Whittaker, however, picked him apart with relative ease, while Jack Hermansson submitted him in the first.

At this point, Gastelum is effectively out of the title mix. He’ll need an entirely new win streak to earn rematches with any of the above, and though he’s still just 29 years old, at some point, the wear-and-tear will add up. Fighter bigger men is damaging, and each bout that doesn’t advance him up the ladder hurts his overall chances.

Perhaps the saddest part of this is that Gastelum’s talent is still so obvious. Pick a random Top Five-ranked Welterweight and pit him opposite Cannonier, and that man is probably going to sleep inside a few minutes. Gastelum shows his heart and skill in every battle, but he’s at an impasse.

Until Gastelum somehow drops back to Welterweight or dramatically changes up his fighting style, the belt is almost certain to remain just out of reach. The odds are always slim when fighting the world’s best, but consistently trying to take out elite opposition who also hold significant size advantages is too much even for a gifted athlete like Kelvin Gastelum.

For complete UFC Vegas 34: “Cannonier vs. Gastelum” results and play-by-play, click HERE!

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