“I feel like Game 6 Michael Jordan.”
For those who witnessed the G.O.A.T. drop 45 points in 44 minutes, including the game winning bucket of the 1998 NBA finals, you know exactly where Kelvin Gastelum’s head is at.
Gastelum is coming into his UFC Fight Island 2 co-main event against Jack Hermansson determined to put on the performance of a lifetime. And he doesn’t believe there is a thing on this planet that can stop him from delivering.
“I’m finally in the right physical and mental space heading into this fight. I feel untouchable right now,” Gastelum told UFC.com. “There is a resurgence in me after those two tough losses and I’m not going to lie, it was really hard to get back on the horse, but once I did and I went to work, I found the happiness I was missing. When a fighter with my skill is happy, in a good mental space and healthy, that fighter is going to make a statement.”
The 28-year-old Gastelum nearly proved that he was the best middleweight in the world in his epic interim title bout with now undisputed champion Israel Adesanya in April of 2019. He felt like that fight helped him “level up” and he was eager to return to the Octagon despite the fact his mind and body weren’t fully healed from the defeat.
So Gastelum jumped into a bout with new middleweight contender Darren Till at Madison Square Garden. He would go on to drop the fight by split decision, forcing him to go back to the drawing board.
“Last year didn’t go my way and that messed with me a lot and I might have even been depressed,” Gastelum said. “I had demons and other personal stuff going on. I suffered an injury, I put on weight and let myself go. I made it through all of that and I’m here to validate to myself that I’m worthy and I belong with the best of the world.”
The Kings MMA product has certainly shown he does belong with the best of the world and he believes his upcoming showdown with Hermansson is the perfect chance to restart his climb to a title shot.
Gastelum is quick to remind me that he isn’t looking to prove anything to anyone; he wants to get back to a title shot because it is his mission to capture gold.
“This is about my own personal validation and if I win this fight, I will have that,” Gastelum said. “I did everything right for this fight. I stuck my nose to the ground and went to work. This is the most satisfying camp I have ever had now that I’ve come back from a USADA issue, from weight gain, from injury and from being in a dark place. I am very proud of what I have worked through to get to this point.”
Standing opposite Gastelum on Yas Island will be Hermansson, who put together a four-fight winning streak before losing his last contest to Jared Cannonier. Both men have their eyes on title contention, and the thought of facing a hungry Hermansson has Gastelum more motivated than ever.
“Hermansson is really good everywhere. Just look at his fight with Jacare Souza. He is very dangerous and has tools that make him tough and we respect them,” Gastelum said. “But I’ve being doing this a long time and there is no way he can surprise me. I hope he brings his best and he’s as hungry as I am. Regardless, I’m going to put on a clinic.”
“I’m going to separate myself from the pack and this is the perfect fight to do it. I’m not just going to say it, I’m going to do it.”
Don’t miss Gastelum’s return to the Octagon against Hermansson on Saturday July 18 on ESPN and ESPN+. The action starts at 5pm ET / 2pm PT.
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