It's crazy to think Kelvin Gastelum isn't even 30-years-old yet, it feels like he's been around for ages. His relative youth is great news for us fans. It means we've got a host of Kelvin Gastelum classics still to come.
Despite breaking onto the UFC scene in impactful fashion and going onto fight for the interim UFC middleweight title, Gastelum has struggled across the last few years and has found himself sliding further down the 185-pound rankings.
After an incredible Fight of the Year with Israel Adesanya at the start of 2019, the 29-year-old fell to two more consecutive losses against Darren Till, who was debuting at middleweight, and Jack Hermansson, who secured a shocking first-round submission victory.
A win over Ian Heinisch at UFC 258 in February brought Kelvin Gastelum back into the win column, but a main event defeat to Robert Whittaker at UFC Vegas 24 last Saturday has stalled Gastelum's resurgence once again.
UFC Vegas 24: Robert Whittaker vs. Kelvin Gastelum
A meeting between Kelvin Gastelum and Robert Whittaker in a UFC main event was two years in the making. The two middleweights were scheduled to headline the UFC 234 pay-per-view in Melbourne in 2019. Whittaker, who was the undisputed champion at the time, was forced to pull out on the day of the title defense after suffering a hernia.
Last weekend, the pair finally stood opposite each other inside the cage. The fight was everything we expected it to be. It was technical, fast-paced and entertaining throughout. Although UFC Vegas 24 was originally set to feature a main event between Whittaker and Brazilian Paulo Costa, the new bout with Kelvin Gastelum was a worthy replacement.
So what is next for Kelvin Gastelum? It's clear he needs wins and needs to build a period of consistent victories in order to to make his way back to the top of the division. His talent is undeniable and he certainly has the ability to do so.
With that said, here are three logical next opponents for Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC.
#3 Kevin Holland
One possible opponent for Kelvin Gastelum is Kevin Holland. 'Trailblazer' has had a similar slide down the rankings as Gastelum and he's in need of a win to resurrect his disappointing 2021 so far.
Kevin Holland is an entertainer and he’s a top striker in the middleweight division. Part of his entertaining style is his talking; perhaps against Brunson he did too much of it. His last two fights have been largely the same. Headlining UFC Vegas 22 and 23, Holland was taken down and picked apart by Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori. His five-fight win streak in 2020 seems a long while ago now...
Despite his recent results, Kevin Holland is just 28 years old. He has more than enough time to make the necessary adjustments to his skillset and make another run at becoming a middleweight contender. Many will have been quick to forget Kevin Holland’s remarkable 2020. His 5-0 year was not a fluke, it was because Holland has immense talent.
Holland might need an opponent ranked lower than Kelvin Gastelum in order to revitalize his career. But this matchup does make sense.
Both men have fallen down the rankings and are in need of a rebound win. Perhaps with the high stakes this matchup would bring for both men, the UFC higher-ups will be tempted to match them together later in the year. The opportunity to face someone more keen for a standing battle than Vettori or Brunson could be exactly what Holland needs.
Similarly, for Kelvin Gastelum, this fight would offer him a lower-ranked opponent but also a recognized name and two-time main-eventer. Not to mention, it could be a cracking watch...
#2 Sean Strickland or Krzysztof Jotko
With Kelvin Gastelum already ranked eighth before his loss to Whittaker, it appears he will be fairly close in the rankings to the winner of the upcoming matchup between Sean Strickland and Krzysztof Jotko.
In a compliment to the depths of the UFC's roster, we tend to see so many exciting names on each card that a number of intriguing matchups go under the radar. Sean Strickland vs. Krzysztof Jotko is a prime example. This is one of the most exciting sleeper fights coming up. The pair are set to square off on the UFC's May 1 card.
Both men have accumulated remarkable records which, when combined, stands at 44-7. Strickland has only lost to elite fighters. At welterweight, “Tarzan” was beaten by Santiago Ponzinibbio and the current champion Kamaru Usman. Aside from that, a spinning wheel kick knockout against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos is the only other loss on what is a seriously impressive record.
After a two-year layoff following a motorcycle accident, Strickland returned to middleweight in 2020, defeating Jack Marshman and the highly-regarded Brendan Allen. The 30-year-old now finds himself at number 15 in the rankings and will look to secure a big name fight in his future with a win over Jotko.
Krzysztof Jotko, meanwhile, is one of the most underrated middleweights in the UFC. Prior to 2017, the Pole was 19-1 and had five consecutive wins. Defeats to David Branch, Brad Tavares and Uriah Hall stalled Jotko's rise, but he's bounced back in recent years with a hat-trick of victories across 2019 and 2020.
Jotko's matchup with Strickland has all the hallmarks of being an unbelievable middleweight clash and Jotko will be looking to come out of it with a number next to his name.
It stands to reason the winner will land pretty close to Kelvin Gastelum in the rankings. A matchup between them would offer Strickland or Jotko the chance to fight one of the division's top names and establish themselves as a contender, and Gastelum the opportunity to face a lower-ranked opponent to try and secure a much-needed rebound win.
#1 Jared Cannonier
Another great opponent Kelvin Gastelum could face in his next fight in the UFC is Jared Cannonier. Like Gastelum, Cannonier's last fight ended in defeat to Robert Whittaker. The pair met at UFC 254 last October. Defeat against 'The Reaper' left Cannonier with a fractured arm and had him on the sidelines with no hope of the title shot he was tipped for any time soon.
Prior to 2020, 'The Killa Gorilla' established himself as a top contender after a hat-trick of wins over David Branch, Anderson Silva and Jack Hermansson. With nine knockouts in his 13 MMA wins, the 37-year-old remains a threat and his return will add yet another contender to the mix.
Cannonier has been away from the octagon since losing to Whittaker. At the back end of last year, he told MMA Junkie that he might have been ready for a March return but wouldn't rush his recovery. He reiterated that his goal remains the title. A victory over Kelvin Gastelum would help achieve that goal.
“I expect when I come back to be in a position right where I was,” Cannonier said. “You know what I’m saying? Right where I left off, one more fight earns me a title shot. Again, that’s the goal, to get that title belt. That belts going to be mine. This is only a bump in the road – a speed bump that I went over a little too fast maybe.”
Should he be ready to go in the coming months, a UFC return against Kelvin Gastelum makes sense for both parties.