To say that it is a good time to be a fan of mixed martial arts would be like saying Dana White has a problem with Ariel Helwani. It’s a little obvious. We have another banger of a weekend on ESPN+ (if anyone can find it) ahead of us at UFC 236. We have two interim title fights on the docket this weekend in Atlanta. The middleweight interim title fight is so intriguing. We have the undefeated and untested phenom from New Zealand Israel ”The Last Stylebender” Adesanya facing off against the oft-underrated tough guy Kelvin Gastelum. I want to take a look inside the octagon and see what it is going to take for Kelvin Gastelum to defeat the undefeated Adesanya and set up a title unification bout against injured champion Robert Whittaker.
If you’re the type of person that takes Adesanya’s last fight in February against Anderson Silva as evidence that Adesanya is going to run through Gastelum, I would call that Fool’s Gold. If you view that as anything other than a glorified sparring exhibition between two Mortal Kombat characters coming to life, I am not sure we saw the same fight. Conversely, those who are criticizing Adesanya for not finishing the 43-year old Silva earlier I lend no credence to either, it was simply an exhibition and a bucket list check for Adesanya.
The key to this fight for both fighters is going to be in Adesanya’s base, his legs and feet. Adesanya does not have one-punch knockout power. He is a volume puncher much in the ilk of Nate Diaz and Max Holloway. The devil is most certainly in the details of this fight. Gastelum cannot let the Kiwi get comfortable in the pocket and pick him apart with his brilliant striking. Gastelum needs to ugly this fight up. At the end of this fight, if we are talking about a straight up toe-to-toe war then this certainly will be Adesanya’s crowning moment.
Gastelum knows he needs to get Adesanya off his spot. How does that happen? You shoot, over and over. Expect Gastelum to push the takedown early and often. Now, Adesanya has shown some decent takedown defence. Brad Tavares is not Kelvin Gastelum, however. Gastelum is a powerhouse, he wants to see how Adesanya responds to a Dogfight on the ground. That is a solid strategy. Easy for me to say. Gastelum is going to have to take the shots from Adesanya. Adesanya is 6’4″ He is a massive man with Jon Jones type length. Gastelum is 5’9″ The difference in length and height is a factor. Gastelum needs to get inside Adesanya and live there. If this is an arm’s distance fight, Adesanya wins easily.
If I am Kelvin Gastelum’s team, my credo for this week should be ‘make it ugly’. The uglier this fight is, the more it favors the shorter underdog. Gastelum needs to cover the distance and make it a clinch War. If this fight has a lot of sequences were Gastelum has the favorite up against the cage then the fight is going according to plan for the challenger.
I am not underrating Gastelum’s significant punching power. He knocked out Tim Kennedy and Michael Bisping. Clearly, the stand-up game is there for Gastelum. Adesanya is not either of those two men, the former Glory kickboxer is on such another level striking from anyone Gastelum has ever faced. I repeat he cannot get goaded into a stand-up battle against Adesanya. He will get stopped eventually, or get outpointed.
Gastelum sticks to the plan. He shoots for takedown after takedown and instigates the clinch war and wins it. He will do enough not to allow Adesanya to plant his feet enough to get off enough shots to stop Gastelum. The hype train gets derailed momentarily. I still think Adesanya’s time will come, but the more experienced, seasoned fighter prevails.
Winner: Kelvin Gastelum