Last night, Kelvin Gastelum made his first UFC appearance since defeating Urijah Hall in the Ultimate Fighter finale. Hall, who came in with immense hype, was shut down decisively by the young wrestler. While Hall’s lack of wrestling skills remained a key reason for such a disappointing loss, the 21-year-old Gastelum proved his capabilities in truly amazing fashion. Hall had limited space to pull off a highlight reel finish, and even before he could get his footing together, he was face-up on the ground. The most interesting fact about the TUF final was that Gastelum didn’t even seem in peak physical condition.
Kelvin Gastelum: The new kid on the block
Fast forward to August 28, Gastelum made his debut at welterweight, and looked to be in much better physical condition. His opponent, Brian Melancon, was also 1-0 in the UFC. It took less than a round for Gastelum to have his way with Melancon, submitting him via rear naked choke. Not only did we see a few perfectly executed takedowns, but the striking combination that lead to the submission attempt showed great versatility. While Melancon is far from the cream of the crop, Gastelum’s performance proves, not only how good he is, but how much he is improving. His striking looked a lot better since his fight with Hall, and the drop in weight has allowed him to reach a freakish physique. With age on his side, Gastelum’s future seems quite bright, and he should see a drastic increase in talent when his next opponent is scheduled.
Another fighter that made significant jumps in his career at such a young age is current UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones. While it is almost insulting to compare the two, it must be done. Not to create unnecessary hype, but to simply suggest how good Gastelum can be. His next opponent will be a major jump in talent, and if he can overcome that, his next fight could very well be against a top 15 fighter. Jones fought Mauricio Rua with an MMA record of 12-1. Gastelum is currently 7-0. With a few more impressive wins, Gastelum could really propel himself into contention. On the other hand, the depth of the welterweight division suggests that Gastelum could even fight talented opponents ranked outside the top 15. The UFC may want to move him along slowly, which would help him develop and get a feel for the welterweight division before he challenges a top 10 fighter. Nevertheless, if Brock Lesnar can win a UFC Heavyweight championship with a record of 2-1, this really does not seem so far fetched.
So, has Gastelum shown us enough to warrant such comparisons? Maybe not. But he could very well be one of the most well-versed MMA fighters at the age of 21. When Jones made his UFC debut in 2008, at the very same age, he came in with an MMA record of 6-0 and earned his seventh win in the octagon. Sound familiar? Though Gastelum fought earlier this year on the TUF finale, he earned his seventh win, and first on a UFC main card, by defeating Melancon at UFC Fight Night 27. Not to jinx the career of Gastelum, but he truly has the makings of a very special fighter. With that said, Gastelum is currently the UFC’s best prospect, but judging by his skills and track record, he might shake that title soon enough. Kevin Gastelum, the contender, coming soon.