Kelvin Gastelum will be the first one to tell you that he’s hit a rough patch. The competitor in him has been searching for a way to get back on track and rediscover what propelled him to the top of the UFC’s middleweight division in 2019.
That journey has been a trying one that forced Gastelum to look outside of his comfort zone for answers. It’s not that Gastelum has been complacent in his training or that he hasn’t made changes to find his mojo; it’s just that he has needed to find his edge.
Enter none other than Gastelum’s good friend and former two-division UFC champion Henry Cejudo.
“Things haven’t gone my way, so we have to readjust, and we have to keep creating new ways to get better. One of those things that was different for me that I did different in this camp was going out and training with Henry Cejudo for a few weeks and really pick his brain,” Gastelum told UFC.com. “Yeah, we hang out all the time and I pick his brain here and there, but it’s different when you just go and focus time on picking his brain and training. I really got to look inside his mind, the Triple C mindset. Behind the showmanship and being the character Triple C, there is an Olympic champion, a two-division UFC champion and there is a competitor. There is a guy that was bred and made in the Olympic Training Center and this guy just knows how to win, so I was lucky enough to pick his brain. I think that sparked something in me and I just got home and got my people together and we all got on the same page.”
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That spark has transformed into a full inferno as Gastelum wrapped up his camp in preparation for his Saturday main event with Jared Cannonier.
“This has been one of the best training camps I’ve had in a long time just because of the structure that we put into this program, the organization that we had in this program and the communication that we had between myself, my training partners, and my coaches,” Gastelum said. “It was just through the roof. It was unlike any other camp that I’ve had.”
A quick glance at the Gastelum’s recent results is deceiving. While he has failed to earn a victory in four of his last five bouts, the middleweight stalwart has faced only the toughest of competition since fighting for the UFC interim middleweight title at UFC 236. Gastelum’s list of opponents goes as follows: Israel Adesanya, Darren Till, Jack Hermansson, Ian Heinisch and Robert Whittaker.
That’s an absolute buzzsaw of top tier opponents and makes up nearly the entire top seven ranked fighters in his division. The only fighters that Gastelum has yet to face are Paulo Costa, Derek Brunson, Kings MMA teammate Marvin Vettori and Cannonier.
So, when Gastelum got the call to face Cannonier on just over nine weeks’ notice, it was a no brainer for the 29-year-old.
“I’m just trying to get back to where I was. I’m just trying to get back to the position that I was, and that’s in the top five. I think a lot of people know that I belong there and know what I bring to the table, and once I get my hand raised on Saturday that will just be the confirmation of that,” Gastelum said. “But we are still on a mission for gold and we’re still trying to get to the title. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Gastelum’s self-belief has always been one of his biggest weapons. It’s what drove him to win The Ultimate Fighter after being selected last on the show, it’s what drove him to push Adesanya to the brink in their epic clash and it’s what he is relying on to get him back on track.
“I believe in myself. I always have and that hasn’t changed and that’s most important,” Gastelum said. “Things go my way on Saturday and a lot of options are on the table, but I have to win on Saturday, so that’s where my focus is.
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“This fight with Jared puts me right back in the mix, where I belong.”
Don’t miss Gastelum fight Cannonier in the main event of UFC Fight Night: Cannonier vs Gastelum live on ESPN and ESPN+ at 10pm ET / 7pm PT.