Kelvin Gastelum laughs when I ask him if he realizes that he’s only 31 years old.
“I do. I definitely feel the wear and tear over the last decade.”
Gastelum has had his share of battles in the Octagon since he debuted against Uriah Hall nearly ten years to the day on April 13, 2013, but the point is, after 20 UFC bouts and all the ups, downs and sideways that come with them, we might not have seen his best yet. And he knows it.
“I do,” said the Arizonan, who faces Chris Curtis at UFC 287 this weekend in Miami. “I'm still young enough to make another run, and now combine it with all the experience and knowledge that I have, and the mission for gold hasn't changed. And I feel like now my chances are even better because I know what it takes.”
He does. In fact, he was one round away from becoming the interim UFC middleweight champion in 2019 when he faced off with Israel Adesanya at UFC 236 in Atlanta. But with the fight deadlocked heading into the fifth round, Adesanya stepped up with a ferocious blitz that earned him the round and the fight. “The Last Stylebender” went on to take the undisputed crown and successfully defend it five times. Gastelum has gone 1-4 in his last five, but that doesn’t mean he can’t embrace being one-half of one of the best middleweight title fights in UFC history.
Bonus Résumé: Kelvin Gastelum
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Bonus Résumé: Kelvin Gastelum
“Absolutely, I appreciate it,” he said. “It was a great fight and I'm glad people enjoyed it. I got a lot of great comments about it and it makes me happy that it makes people happy, and this is why we get into the business. But, at the end of the day, my hand was not raised, so I want to accomplish this mission right before I retire. I've always said I had a timeline. I got into the game young. So I said when I was in my mid-thirties is when I said I'd call it. And if I'd be fighting after that, then it's probably by luck or because I'm still doing good or still love it.”
Gastelum, who made his UFC debut by winning The Ultimate Fighter 17 at the age of 21, still loves the game, even though luck hasn’t been kind to him when it comes to injuries and other obstacles thrown in his path. But when he made the move from his longtime training base in Huntington Beach, California back home to Arizona a year and a half ago, it did put a little jump in his step that he hadn’t felt in a while.
“As soon as I got here, it felt amazing,” said Gastelum, whose most recent bout was a five-round decision loss to Jared Cannonier in August of 2021. “It felt like everybody was just waiting for me to come home. I got embraced right off the bat with open arms and everybody really made me feel welcomed, and it's been a great experience. I moved from arguably one of the best places of the country in Huntington Beach to Phoenix, which is also not a bad spot. But I love the move.”
The former TUF winner was ready to show how KG 2.0 performed in the Octagon last year when matched up with Dricus Du Plessis, then in January against Nassourdine Imavov, but both fights were scrapped when the injury bug bit him again. But the eternally positive Gastelum believes everything happened for a reason, just like he doesn’t look back in anger at the Adesanya fight, because when asked if he would have been ready to be champion back in 2019, he admits that maybe he wasn’t.
“Probably not,” he said. “There are things that I still probably needed to learn, perspectives that I needed to learn, and it's all been a very hard lesson learned since then. I tried to get momentum going and it hasn't been the same. And so I've had to learn to get other motivations, encourage myself and really live this life. If I really want to live it, then I really got to throw myself in the fire. And that's what I've been doing the last two years almost. It's just working on my health, working on my physical and mental health and getting better. This season has been a season of growth, a season of learning. And I feel like, as cliche as it is, this is the best version of myself. I feel like I'm putting all the elements together, all my knowledge, all my experience, my youth and my hunger together to accomplish this mission.”
The mission. It’s the hashtag on his Twitter page and the goal he’s been chasing since putting on four-ounce gloves. It’s what gets Kelvin Gastelum out of bed in the morning and what will lead him into battle with Curtis on Saturday night. Yeah, the past couple years have been rough, but a win in Miami gives him a fresh start, and that’s all he needs.
“I do feel like people may look at my track record and figure it's not too great, but I'm feeling great,” he said. “And I'm sitting in a great position. I feel like I'm in my physical prime, I've got all this experience, I've got all this knowledge, and I feel like now that I've got myself mentally and physically fit, it's just another opportunity for me to go on another title run. And it feels good. I'm in a good position, more so than people may think.”
UFC 287: Pereira vs Adesanya 2 took place live from Kayesa Center in Miami, Florida on April 8, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!