Weight class changes rarely come after a win. Why change what is seen as a winning formula? Moving up a weight class or down is generally seen as an attempt to revitalize a somewhat failing career. Five or so years ago, the standard was to move down in weight and have the advantage of being the bigger and stronger guy. In more recent years, with most fighters cutting as much weight as possible already, moving down is almost always physically impossible (can Jose Aldo Really make 135?). The standard affair now is to move up in weight. For many fighters, it has been surprisingly successful. Fighters like Dustin Poirier come to mind, but the greatest example is possibly Kelvin Gastelum, who is one half of the co-main event for Saturday night’s fantastically stacked UFC 244, as he fights Darren Till.
Journey to MSG
After an impressive run in The Ultimate Fighter, Gastelum struggled to get it together at welterweight. Following a third failed attempt at making 170 pounds, Gastelum decided 185lbs would be the answer. Would this be the beginning of the end of Gastelum’s career? At a height of 5 foot 9, he is seen to be much too small for a middleweight. It wasn’t an uneducated assumption- Gastelum is routinely a smaller fighter. His height is routinely seen at featherweight, and he is only an inch taller than career-long bantamweight Dominick Cruz.
There was an assumption that Gastelum’s inability to diet like a responsible professional athlete would be his end, especially when he was forced against Tim Kennedy. Gastelum proved everyone wrong when he battered Kennedy, showing off impressive speed and resilience that eventually caused Kennedy to collapse. Gastelum’s speed is overwhelming to middleweights, and he put up an impressive performance against now-champion Israel Adesanya. Despite losing, it is still among the best fights to grace MMA fans in 2019. Now on a path of redemption after barely losing to Adesanya, Gastelum welcomes another man looking for career revitalization by moving up a weight class – Darren Till. UFC 244 finds both fighters in the co-main event looking to redeem themselves.
Till’s career vaguely resembles Gastelum’s. Although Till has only twice not made the welterweight limit, it is clear that the weight cut is exhausting him. He is someone who has always been the larger man at the 170-pound weight limit. After the UFC rushed Till into a title fight that he came nowhere close to winning and a back and forth 2 rounds with UFC 244’s main event fighter Jorge Masvidal that resulted in Till unconscious for a scarily-long time, Till has decided that the solution to his first skid of losses is to move up. Fans have been begging him to move up due to the brutal weight cut. Despite this, not many give him a chance against Gastelum. The former TUF winner has made himself a perennial top 5 fighter at his weight class.
What Till really needs is a step down in competition, a tune-up fight that allows him to sharpen his skills without taking too much damage. With Gastelum, he has a tough road to victory. If he loses, he will have his third loss in a row – going from undefeated to three straight losses. Questions will then be asked about the management of his career, rather than his ability. If Till loses, which the oddsmakers expect him to, he may have to examine his career again. Who knows, he might change weight classes and make another attempt at welterweight.
UFC 244 Co-Main potential
This fight, and it’s eventual outcome, will answer many questions about the problems moving up a weight class holds, as well as the solutions. Gastelum’s game has never been about his size – he is almost always the smaller fighter. His hand speed and impressive 1-2, along with his pace and excellent scrambling have allowed him to succeed despite the often large size gap. Till, however, has always had a game that succeeded partly due to his height.
Till’s most impressive performance comes against the much smaller man Donald Cerrone. Against Cerrone, the combination of pressure and impressive hand speed proved too much for Cowboy, who had close to zero success. Till even had a great deal of success against his previous opponent Masvidal. He knocked Masvidal down with the first flurry he threw. Till didn’t lose that fight because he drained himself making the 170-pound limit- he lost because Masvidal read Till’s lack of defence and exploited it.
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