Kelvin Gastelum eyeing welterweight title shot despite career-long weight-cutting issues

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Kelvin Gastelum failed to make weight three times while fighting as a welterweight, once prior to a fight with Tyron Woodley where he missed by 10 pounds.

Twice, as a direct result of those failures, UFC president Dana White said he would no longer permit Gastelum to fight at 170 and made him move to middleweight.

The move has been a boon for Gastelum’s career. He has the look of a contender, and very well could get a title shot if he defeats former champion Chris Weidman on Saturday in the main event of a UFC on Fox show in Long Island, New York.

But as good as the move to middleweight has been for him, Gastelum still yearns to fight at welterweight. He’d like to face Woodley, the welterweight champion, not only to win that belt but also to avenge his first loss.

“I still have my eye on that 170 title,” he said. “If I go down, it would be to fight for the title.”

On the surface, given his problem making 170 and his success at middleweight, it makes little sense. It’s like a dog who always wants what’s behind the closed door and not what is at his feet in front of him.

He’s a contender – a legitimate, honest-to-goodness contender – as a middleweight, despite a March win over Vitor Belfort being changed to a no contest after Gastelum tested positive for marijuana.

And yet, he can’t stop dreaming of a return to welterweight. It makes no sense to most, but it makes plenty of sense to him.

“I can make it happen; I can win that title,” Gastelum said. “I can be the champion. I think I’m even better [at welterweight than I am at middleweight]. The guys are more my height. They’re more my reach. I feel I have a strength advantage at that weight class. At middleweight, everyone has a height and reach advantage on me and while I feel like I can still compete with the best in the world, it’s a risk.”

Kelvin Gastelum, 25, has already beaten an impressive list of opponents. (AP)

It would seem to be a risk to dehydrate himself and put his health in jeopardy in order to make weight that he hasn’t proven he can do.

But Gastelum, who at 25 hasn’t fully reached his prime yet, appears to have learned from his past mistakes. He’s hooked up with highly regarded nutritionist George Lockhart in the past, who taught him how to go about cutting weight properly.

Lockhart isn’t with Gastelum in this camp, because he feels he’s learned what he needs and doesn’t have nearly as much weight to shed. He said he weighed 187 on Monday, so he was essentially already on weight.

And he said his problems making 170 weren’t from chowing down pints of ice cream and chomping on Snickers’ bars, but rather from a lack of understanding of the nutritional and weight-cutting processes.

“I’ve grown and I’ve matured over the last two years,” he said. “I feel the times I’ve missed weight, it’s been an immaturity thing and not knowing or understanding the right way to handle my nutrition. There is a lot to know about the nutritional aspects, and I’ve had to grow and learn and I took nutritional courses, because I knew nothing about nothing when I started this.

“I had to learn as I went along and fought each fight. But I went out and did the work and I did my research and I educated myself. There’s a lot to learn: Knowing what foods to eat, when to eat it, the timing of it. There is a lot more to nutrition than just eating chicken and veggies. Now that I understand it, it’s not that complicated, but before, it was a whole puzzle to me.”

He’ll have some work to do to convince White and matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard to allow him to make a run at the welterweight title, but he’s laser focused on Weidman at this point.

Weidman has lost three in a row, but he is fighting at home and is desperate for a victory. The division is deep, but in a bit of disarray with a champion, Michael Bisping, who is injured, and an interim champion, Robert Whittaker, who injured his knee in a title-winning effort at UFC 213 over Yoel Romero.

Gastelum is ranked eighth at middleweight, three spots behind Weidman, and a win would do wonders for him.

If ever there were a time to expect to see the best of Weidman, though, it is on Saturday, where he’ll be fighting in front of friends and family and to avoid putting White in the difficult spot of making a tough decision on a guy who lost four in a row.

Gastelum knows what he’s in for and said he relishes the challenge.

“When I got into the sport, these are the kinds of fights I wanted, meaningful bouts against the best in the world,” he said. “His back is against the wall and he’s going to come with everything to win this fight. In my opinion, Chris Weidman is a great fighter and I think we’re going to see him at his best.

“But you know what? I believe in me. I took this fight and I went to his backyard knowing how dangerous he is because I believe in what I can do. I have done the preparation and I’ve trained with some of the best in the world and I believe that no matter what, I can do this.”

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