Kelvin Gastelum wasn’t going to let a little matchup change take him off of next weekend’s UFC 273 pay-per-view (PPV) card in Jacksonville, Fla., which is why the former UFC middleweight title challenger will put his division ranking on the line against a relatively unknown Dricus du Plessis.
Gastelum was originally expected to fight surging contender Nassourdine Imavov, but visa issues nixed that matchup just earlier this week. Instead, Gastelum will now fight former EFC middleweight champion du Plessis, who was originally slated to fight Anthony Hernandez before getting the call up to the PPV main card.
For Gastelum, it has been an up-and-down ride this past week with all of the opponent changes. The perennial contender is happy to put everything behind him and focus on his fight for next weekend’s event.
“It’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster. First, the fight was off is what I thought, and then we settled on rescheduling for May 7 in Phoenix, and so that’s what I thought was going to happen, and I was like, ‘All right, well, at least it’s a plus,” Gastelum told The Underground. “I’m in Arizona for the first time in my UFC career. I’m fighting in Arizona, so that’s a plus.’ But then I was just kind of sitting back after a training session and I was like, ‘Man, I put in so much effort, so much time. I moved out here to Arizona for this, and like, I don’t want to let it go to waste,’ you know?…
“This was an amazing training camp,” he added. “Put in a lot of effort, a lot of thought, not just me, but a group of people behind me. We all collectively put in a lot of effort and work into this camp, so I wasn’t going to let it go to waste.”
Gastelum, 30, is in a tough spot in the UFC’s growing middleweight division after dropping five out of his last six trips to the Octagon. Those matchups did come against the very best in the division — including Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, and Jared Cannonier — but there’s no time to waste if you’re Gastelum trying to right the ship. That is why the veteran fighter decided to accept the fight against du Plessis to prove he’s a different athlete in 2022.
“I had to do my homework on him,” Gastelum said. “The last few days, I’ve been studying him, watching his fights, me and my team, so I wasn’t real familiar with him, but I am now. He’s a tough guy. You know, he’s not in the rankings, hasn’t been in the UFC very long, but I’ve seen what he’s been doing. He has a lot of pop in his punches, has a lot of stoppages. He’s one of those guys, he’ll take one to give one, so you know, this guy is younger. He’s hungry, wants to take my spot, and I’m in a bit of a crossroads myself, right? But that’s not what I’m focused on. I’m just focused on getting my W.”
“It feels like a restart in my career, honestly,” he later added. “I’m making a lot of changes. I moved out here to Arizona. We’re doing things differently out here. As you can see, ‘Triple C’ is bringing in all these people wanting to work with him, and it’s for a reason. There’s a system that they’ve created and we’re following in it, and it’s pretty awesome results what we’ve had during this camp, and I’m excited. It feels like a restart in my career, feels like a restart for me. I feel like I’m in a great place, mentally, physically. It just feels like a whole new start for me.”
What do you think, fight fans? Does Gastelum right the ship at UFC 273 or is he biting off more than he can chew against a hungry finisher like du Plessis?