Kelvin Gastelum (6-0, 1-0 UFC) vs. Brian Melancon (7-2, 1-0 UFC)
The most recent winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” makes his post-TUF UFC debut as season 17 champion Kelvin Gastelum takes on Brian Melancon in a featured bout on the night’s main card. Gastelum is undefeated in his young career, having won all six of his professional fights, and is coming off a win over Uriah Hall in the The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in April. Meanwhile, Melancon fights for the second time in the UFC and is looking to extend a two-fight win streak. He debuted with a knockout win over Seth Baczynski at last month’s UFC 162 event. Melancon is 4-1 over his last five fights.
Fight Breakdown- Gastelum was one of the underdogs on season 17 of TUF, and if you watched the early episodes, you may have thought that he’d be eliminated relatively quickly. Everyone who thought that was proved wrong as Gastelum was impressive on the show and went 4-0 to advance to the finals to fight teammate Hall. In a fight many were expecting him to lose and he was the big underdog in, Gastelum shocked the world in taking home a decision win over Hall. He had the crowd behind him on that night in April in Las Vegas, and he proved you can never doubt a man in a fight. While he won as a middleweight, he will be dropping down to a more natural weight class at 170 pounds, and he was slated to take on a stiff opponent in Paulo Thiago. Thiago, though, was forced out due to injury, and Gastelum gets a short-notice replacement in Melancon.
Melancon is looking to extend his two-fight win streak and keep some momentum going as he fights for the second time in the UFC. His knockout win over Baczynski at UFC 162 came in the last second of the first round, but he was super impressive for the entire fight and showed with some seasoning, he could be a solid addition to the welterweight stable. Melancon thought with a loss that the fight would be his only one in the UFC, and was considering retiring if he was cut, but when you couple the win with taking this fight as a short-notice injury replacement, Melancon will be around the UFC for a little while. He has solid hands and good recovering skills, and he has never been finished in a fight, as both of his career losses came due to a decision.
Gastelum has a solid wrestling base but also packs some power in his punch and has shown good submission skills, especially with a tight rear-naked choke if he is able to take the back of his opponents. Melancon showed very good power against Baczynski, and the knockout was a highlight-reel one for sure. Melancon isn’t a fighter to back away from a brawl, and he will bring the action forward as he likes to land power punches from inside the pocket. Gastelum also likes to engage in a brawl and is not afraid to exchange punches, and that sets up well for a potentially crowd-pleasing brawl between these two. Gastelum has a solid chin and took some shots from Hall and didn’t back down, and his wrestling base gives him the opportunity to change levels and shoot for the takedown if he gets in trouble on his feet.
Melancon’s power in his hands will likely force Gastelum to employ more of a takedown-based strategy in this fight. Melancon will need to have his takedown defense at a high level if he wants to keep this fight upright. Melancon should look to avoid letting Gastelum work in transitions on the ground if he finds himself planted on his back. Gastelum using guard passes and working to the back of Melancon will play a key role if he is going to take the win. Conditioning could come into play as Gastelum makes the drop back down in weight classes, and Melancon taking the fight on short notice could cause his cardio to not be 100-percent. Gastelum should be able to take the fight to the mat, and that will make the difference as he takes home the win in his post-TUF debut.
Why It Matters- Gastelum doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he has a ton of potential, and he is a raw, young talent. His win on TUF may have been a surprise the most, but don’t underestimate him at all- he has the ability to become a contender several years down the road. For now, he is going to have to work on building his resume, and it starts against Melancon. Melancon may not ever fight for a UFC title, but he is the type of fighter to give Gastelum a solid fight as he progresses.
Melancon was looking at retirement if he had lost to Baczynski as he was sure he was going to be cut with a loss. He has a reprieve for now with a win over Baczynski and taking this fight on short notice as an injury replacement. Melancon can look to build on his skillset with his employment firm for now, and a win over Gastelum would be a big upset as he is a healthy underdog in this fight. Melancon needs to bring the fight to Gastelum and show he is a force in the UFC’s welterweight division.