Kelvin Gastelum may have found his Welterweight dance partner.
After years of teasing a return to his original weight class, Gastelum, 31, is moving back down from Middleweight. The Ultimate Fighter 17 (TUF) winner recently returned to the win column in vintage fashion, earning a unanimous decision over Chris Curtis at UFC 287 in April 2023. Now feeling reignited and back to his best self, Gastelum believes it’s time to pull the transitional trigger.
Surging undefeated 17-0 No. 6-ranked contender, Shavkat Rakhmonov, was quick to challenge Gastelum to fight after hearing the decision.
“I like the callout. I appreciate the call out,” Gastelum said on his YouTube channel (h/t MMA Fighting). “I thought it was a little boring. He could have added a little spice to it, but I like the fight. These are the kind of fights that I want in the welterweight division. This puts me right in the mix, swimming with the sharks. It’s either sink or swim. I like this fight. I think he’s ranked No. 5 or No. 6 in the Welterweight division. This puts me up there with some really fun fights, given I win this, which I will...
“It’s been a couple weeks since the tweet,” he continued. “I’ve been on vacation so it’s taken me some time to address it, but now it’s time for me to address it and officially accept the challenge. I accept, Shavkat Rakhmonov, your challenge at 170 pounds, and not only that, I’ll give you a date. Dana [White] was talking about doing a huge Mexican Independence Day event in Las Vegas, which happens to be Sept. 16 on the dot, and me being an outstanding Mexican American, I would gladly represent where my people have come from and where we’re going. Sept. 16 at the T-Mobile Arena, wherever it may be, as your man in Kazakhstan, [Gennady Golovkin] would say, ‘Big drama show.’ Let’s get it on. I accept, Shavkat. I accept your challenge.”
Rakhmonov has been nothing short of spectacular in his career thus far, finishing all 17 of his opponents. Showing a diverse arsenal of skills, “The Nomad” holds eight of those wins by knockout and nine by submission.
Whoever Gastelum faces in his Welterweight return will be his first opponent south of 185 since UFC 200 in July 2016 against Johny Hendricks. Gastelum (18-8, 1 no contest) won a unanimous decision on the night and followed it up with 12 fights at Middleweight, going 5-6 and 1 no contest.
“I think stylistically I’m horrible for him,” Gastelum said of Rakhmonov. “He comes forward, he’s very sloppy sometimes, and I’m going to be able to capitalize on that. I’m either going to be able to land these two [raises his fists] or take his ass down and submit him. I don’t know which way I’ll win.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie and say he’s not a difficult opponent, because he is,” he added. “The man can take a beating. But I can’t wait to be the one to actually put the ‘1’ next to his undefeated record. I just think I’m a horrible match up.”