Kelvin Gastelum wants to be UFC champion. More than that, he wants to have a clean conscience.
Yes, Gastelum (18-8 MMA, 12-8 UFC) overall has been successful in the world of MMA. Many would dream to achieve a fraction of what he’s done. Gastelum’s accolades include: Wining “The Ultimate Fighter,” Season 17, headlining six UFC events, breaking into the rankings in two different weight classes, defeating multiple former UFC champions and legends, fighting in the UFC for over a decade – and the list continues.
Yet despite having achieved plenty at just 32 years of age, Gastelum realized that perhaps the list could’ve been longer. That wasn’t an easy thing to process.
“I asked myself, ‘How dedicated do I want to be at this sport?’ I faced some tough questions and some truths that I didn’t like,” Gastelum recently told MMA Junkie in Spanish, as he recalled his recent career awakening. “I asked myself about my dedication, and the part I was missing was my diet.”
Back in April 2013, Gastelum won “TUF 17” at 185 pounds when he was just 21 years old. He defeated then highly-touted prospect Uriah Hall in the finals. Gastelum was by far the smallest fighter that season, and as many expected, he moved down to welterweight after his tournament winning performance.
That’s when the problems began. Despite having a welterweight frame, Gastelum missed weight three times out of the eight bouts he had at 170 pounds. This prompted a move to 185 pounds, where he competed for the next seven years.
Gastelum fought for the UFC interim middleweight title, losing a competitive decision to Israel Adesnaya in arguably one of the best title fights in UFC history. He also defeated notable names like Michael Bisping, Ronaldo Souza, and Tim Kennedy. But that success was accompanied by defeats, too, and many injuries, especially towards the end of his middleweight run.
“I went through several years when I was getting injured and fights were falling through,” Gastelum said. “I went through many tough moments. In my opinion, I lost many years due to injury, the knee and mouth surgery, then I fracture my nose. I was able to overcome that and put that behind me.
“Now I feel good, but I also feel I lost years, maybe even a small chapter of my career. … I feel like there’s this window and one day it will fully close, and I don’t want to have any regrets for when that day comes. (Dropping to welterweight) is a decision I made for myself. How dedicated do I want to be at this sport? I want to make sure I did everything to be world champion.”
After seven years away from his last welterweight fight, Gastelum returns to 170 pounds this Saturday on the main card of UFC on ESPN 52 at Moody Center in Austin, Texas. He takes on top-10 UFC-ranked welterweight Sean Brady (15-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC).
This move back to welterweight is part of a bigger realization that at 32 years of age, there’s still new heights for Gastelum’s fighting career. He admits that his middleweight stint was a reflection of him not trying his fullest. Since he did have success early on, it was a comfortable stay.
“Because I did have success at middleweight, I thought that maybe I could get away with it and still be there fighting those guys, but the truth is that they were too big,” Gastelum explained. “They’re too big, and I was at a big disadvantage.
“Welterweight has always been my weight class and where I’ve always should’ve been. But like I said, I did have success at middleweight, and I was comfortable there without having to do much sacrifice in the diet.”
Gastelum already made weight for Saturday’s bout. He registered at 170 pounds on the scale and looked in his best form. He intends to do everything to unlock his full potential. His drop to welterweight marks the beginning of this new chapter.
“I have maybe five years, and I want to maximize those years as best I can,” Gastelum said. “I want to leave zero doubts that I gave it my all to be champion.”
Welcome back to welterweight, @KelvinGastelum!
— MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) December 1, 2023
The move to 170 pounds is a big piece of his campaign for the title, but it’s not all. Gastelum also intends to fight with more purpose and has a plan in mind for title contention in 2024.
“I obviously want to finish with a win this year, but then I want to fight in April, hopefully UFC 300. Then, I want to fight in September for Mexican Independence Day,” Gastelum said. “Dana White had said that it was going to be at the Sphere in Las Vegas. I would love to be headlining that card, maybe for the title or a No. 1 contender spot.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 52.