Kelvin Gastelum (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

The UFC’s Latest Prodigy: Kelvin Gastelum

The Cinderella story is a well-known tale. It’s the idea that a person or team of persons was doubted so much and had to fight against all odds, but they pulled through and cemented their place in the history books. For comedy fans, it’s the Bill Murray line from Caddyshack where he talks about the former greenskeeper who is about to become the Master’s champion. It’s the least expected outcome of any event. Let’s head back to The Ultimate Fighter 17 for the origins of this particular Cinderella story.

The season started off with one of the most terrifying knockouts in TUF history whenUriah Hall faced Adam Cella. With just seconds left in the first frame, Hall landed a perfectly executed spinning hook kick that separated Cella from his senses. The strike itself seemed to stop time as jaws had to be raised off the floor from witnessing such a spectacular finish. Hall would go on to finish fellow cast member Bubba McDaniel with one of the fastest TKO victories in TUF history as well. It seemed Hall was a shoo-in for the TUF crown.

Yet, there was also Kelvin Gastelum, who was slowly rising to the top as well, but in a much quieter way. Gastelum finished all his TUF opponents, but he didn’t possess the same drawing power as his counterpart, who had fans on their seats waiting for the next explosive finish. So when it came down to the finale and it was Gastelum against Hall, the consensus seemed to be that didn’t Gastelum have what it would take to combat the striking prowess of Hall. The consensus opinion was wrong. It wasn’t the prettiest or most exciting fight, but Gastelum was able to shut down Hall and walk away with the split decision victory. The future possibilities for the 21-year old were limitless.


Gastelum dropped down in weight, as many TUF winners do, and began his career as a welterweight. He was victorious in his first four outings, but not without controversy. He missed weight for his third bout, which came against Nico Musoke, and then again when he took on Tyron Woodley at UFC 183. He didn’t just barely miss the mark, either. He missed it by 10 pounds.

The weight debacle led to Gastelum’s return to the middleweight division, but just for one fight. His re-entrance into the 185-pound weight class was not an easy one — he was matched up with former middleweight title contender Nate Marquardt — but he did score the TKO finish.

For some reason, Gastelum attempted to return to the welterweight division. His rise was halted once again when he took a split decision loss against Neil Magny at the TUF Latin America 2 Finale. However, he was able to rebound with a win over former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks at UFC 200.

The next man for Gastelum should have been Donald Cerrone. It wasn’t. On the day of the weigh-ins, Gastelum failed to make weight and the bout was scrapped. This signaled that the book on Gastelum’s welterweight career was officially closed. He had missed weight multiple times and even forced the scrapping of a fight the day before the monumental first-ever UFC card in New York, thus depriving Cerrone of an appearance at the historic event. Gastelum’s only choice was to shift his attention to a division where he could make weight.

Gastelum moved back to the middleweight division, but how could he possibly get back into the good graces of the UFC? Well, his finish of Tim Kennedy late in the third round of their UFC 206 fight certainly helped.

Just three months later, Gastelum was awarded the highest-profile fight of his career: a showdown with Vitor Belfort. Before the riots begin, it was very clear that this Belfort is not the same wrecking ball that he used to be. He’s no longer the man who drove fear into the hearts of many based on his speed alone. He was “The Phenom” for a reason, but those days were in the past. Yet, when that cage door shut last weekend, the Belfort of old seemed to be back. His speed was there. His drive, too. However, there was something missing: his chin. Gastelum was able to tag Belfort over and over again, dropping the former champion en route to finishing him within the first frame. It was not a shocking outcome, but the pain was felt throughout the arena.

To make matters even more interesting, Gastelum went and called out Anderson Silva. Yes, the Anderson Silva, former middleweight champ and arguably one of the greatest of all time. He called out the same Silva who tore through the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions with relative ease for nearly seven years. Like the legendary Belfort, though, that Silva is no more. Instead, Silva is now a fighter who is 1-4 in his last five bouts, not including a no-contest against Nick Diaz. Silva’s a 41-year-old shell of his former self. Surely the UFC wouldn’t match these two together, right? Wrong

Just days after Gastelum’s brash callout, the UFC granted the rising contender his wish. At UFC 212, Gastelum will take on Silva. Why would the UFC do this? The answer is not so simple.

In 2014, it was reported that the UFC and Silva came to a 15-fight agreement. Since then, Silva has competed just four times. This would mean he still has 11 fights on his current contract. The UFC is making the best of the time it has with Silva and — I never thought I would say these words — is using Silva as a stepping stone for Gastelum. It’s a way to create a buzz around the young buck and to get the biggest feather in his cap. The UFC would benefit most from a Gastelum win, as crazy as that may sound.

The company needs another rising star. Conor McGregor lacks a title defense. Ronda Rousey’s return is unknown. Georges St-Pierre is back, but fans and fighters alike are not happy with the UFC’s decision to give him an immediate title shot at middleweight, a weight class where he has never competed. The UFC is running out of options. The promotion needs to start building up its younger fighters to appease the audience and draw in new viewers while still maintaining the current audience.

Heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic and the aforementioned Woodley, who holds the welterweight belt, are 34. Light heavyweight kingpin Daniel Cormier is 37. Middleweight titleholder Michael Bisping is 38. The young guns, like Cody Garbrandt, Max Holloway, Amanda Nunes, Joanna Jędrzejczyk and McGregor are all under 30. The UFC is grooming Gastelum to be the next fighter to join these young guns.