Everyone who is looking forward to the UFC’s long-awaited debut in New York at the world-famous Madison Square Garden will not be disappointed, even if they’ve discovered the one fighter that couldn’t take part.
In what is already being dubbed as the “best card ever” by UFC commentator Joe Rogan, even the one fight that had to be altered still doesn’t do it much of a disservice.
Originally, longtime lightweight and now sudden welterweight contender Donald Cerrone was set to face former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler on the main card, but the American Top Team product Lawler is still recovering from his knockout loss to Tyron Woodley and had to be pulled from the bout. Lawler was replaced by The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum.
Is this a slightly less exciting fight to watch? You could say that. Will it take away from the overall excitement of the card? Probably not.
Not only is the card stacked with three title fights and four champions in action, but even four of the non-title bouts feature former champs. Lawler would have been the fifth former champion fighting on the card, had he been able to compete.
The main event pits newly crowned lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez against current featherweight kingpin Conor McGregor. The co-headliner features new welterweight champ Tyron Woodley in his first title defense against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. And what can be viewed as the second co-main will pair two Polish strikers, as women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk puts her belt on the line against Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
The former champs fighting on the card are New York natives Chris Weidman and Rashad Evans, New Jersey native Frankie Edgar and recently dethroned women’s bantamweight champ Miesha Tate.
Fans know these will all be really exciting fights, as will much of the undercard. Cerrone’s fight with Gastelum might seem like a letdown after the promise of a showdown with Lawler, but it’s an excellent fight for both guys, especially with Cerrone’s newfound glory at a higher weight class.
Gastelum was featured on the 17th season of TUF, where he was picked last by Team Sonnen. While flying under the radar the entire season, and with selfmade karate kid Uriah Hall blowing everyone away with knockouts, Gastelum not only made it to the finale to take on Hall, but he beat the highlight-reel striker by decision, neutralizing Hall’s incredible striking to become the TUF champ.
Gastelum is no Lawler, of course. He is not a gimme fight, either. The Bay Area native has beaten the likes of Rick Story, Jake Ellenberger, Nate Marquardt and former champ Johnny Hendricks. These are all guys that have had great success in the sport. His only setbacks have come against current champ Tyron Woodley and Neil Magny.
One unfortunate issue that has haunted Gastelum is his struggle at times to make weight. He has missed the mark twice in his UFC career. Ever since being pressured by UFC President Dana White to go back up to middleweight, Gastelum has managed to get back on track and reach the 170-pound limit in his last two bouts.
It appears Gastelum is now making the weight successfully to compete as a welterweight. While the middleweight division would obviously mean an easier cut for him, he has a stocky and somewhat bulky frame and stands only 5-foot-9, which is short compared to most other fighters at 185 pounds. Middleweight opponents would not only check in taller than Gastelum, but they are much more likely to enjoy the edge in the reach department as well. Even Gastelum’s opponent, Cerrone, who has fought as low as 155 pounds, is 6-foot tall, so Gastelum already has the disadvantage in height.
The impressive thing about Gastelum, however, is that he’s very good at using his stocky frame to get inside on his opponent, effectively using the clinch, where he displays his strength and wrestling ability to exhaust his opponent. Remember his “Fight of the Night” performance in a headliner against towering welterweight Neil Magny, who stands 6-foot-3 with an incredible 80-inch reach? They went toe-to-toe for all five rounds, each gaining and losing momentum throughout the fight, which left them completely exhausted. Magny was able to get the takedown and even mount Gastelum at one point early on, but the TUF winner made his own run, taking control later in the fight and scoring two knockdowns in the fourth round. Ultimately, Magny pulled off the win, but it was definitely a fight to remember and displayed the toughness of both guys.
Gastelum has certainly earned this fight against Cerrone on a huge stage like Madison Square Garden. Cerrone will definitely use his height and reach, coupled with his incredible striking, to keep Gastelum guessing, but even if the TUF winner wants the takedown to administer some ground-and-pound, he better watch out for Cerrone’s guard. The “Cowboy” has some of the slickest jiu-jitsu in the UFC. It goes unnoticed because Cerrone is such a great striker. That’s probably what makes Cerrone one of the most dangerous fighters on the roster who still hasn’t won a belt. He has all the potential that many people might not really recognize. One aspect of his talent is constantly on display, but if he always has something to fall back on. Cerrone is basically a human Swiss Army knife, and Gastelum better make sure he doesn’t get cut.
While everyone is looking forward to all the crazy title fights and big-name contenders at UFC 205, Cerrone and Gastelum should not — and hopefully will not — go overlooked. These are two guys that are supremely talented and bring it every time. Replacement fighters aren’t always going to be the best option available, but that level of randomness creates intrigue and surprise. That’s what makes the fight game so crazy. Anything can happen at any time, before, during and maybe even after the fight. That’s what will have me glued to my seat for this one.