UFC Long Island: Chris Weidman vs. Kelvin Gastelum Preview

UFC Long Island Main Event
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

The UFC makes its long awaited debut in Long Island, and it’s featuring hometown hero Chris Weidman against young upstart Kelvin Gastelum.

The UFC is arriving in Long Island for the first time in the organization’s history, and it will feature a hometown favorite taking on a surging upstart when Chris Weidman faces Kelvin Gastelum.  When the two middleweights collide, it will have major implications for both men going forward.

For Weidman, the “All American” is at a tipping point in his UFC career.  The former middleweight champion has dropped three straight, putting him in a precarious position moving forward.  A fourth straight loss may not put his UFC career in jeopardy, but it would likely drop him out of the rankings.

His victories over Anderson Silva remain the benchmark moments of his career, but recently he has drawn criticism for his performances.  After stifling former light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, he’s had to address the tactical errors he’s made against opponents Yoel Romero and Gegard Mousasi.

He was integral in helping bring the UFC to New York, but a fourth straight loss would leave the majority counting out any hope of a return to the top of the division.  Nor has Weidman been given an easy assignment at UFC on Fox 25 this Saturday, as Gastelum looks to continue his assault on the middleweight division.

Gastelum is currently riding a three fight win-streak, coming off victories over Johny Hendricks and Tim Kennedy.  His most recent fight was originally a first round knockout over Vitor Belfort, however the decision was overturned to a No Contest when Gastelum tested positive for marijuana.  The result led to him being pulled from a scheduled fight with Anderson Silva in Brazil at UFC 212.

The most surprising part of Gastelum’s run is how unexpected it was to occur at middleweight.  After winning The Ultimate Fighter, Gastelum dropped down to welterweight where he went 5-2, including victories over former champion Hendricks and a close split-decision loss to current champion Tyron Woodley.  After failing dramatically to make 170 for a fight against Donald Cerrone at UFC 205, Gastelum made a quick turnaround a month later by returning to middleweight to defeat the top ten ranked Tim Kennedy.

Gastelum followed up that victory with another impressive win, at the time, over Belfort.  The strides he has made in his game suddenly had many believing that his speed and pace would give him a great competitive edge at middleweight.  There is also the factor of making weight.  Gastelum has admitted that his discipline wanes between fights and that his weight does get out of control, resulting in his struggles to make the welterweight limit of 170lbs.  So far, his size has not been an issue at middleweight however Weidman is among the largest athletes in the division and will look to use his larger frame to his advantage.

Stylistically, Weidman looks to have a huge advantage on the mat with his superior grappling and should look use the clinch early to wear down Gastelum’s energy.  The younger fighter is known for using his fast hands to light opponents up on the outside while Weidman tends to set up more powerful blows at close range.  If Weidman can get Gastelum onto the mat early, it’ll give him plenty of opportunities to build a huge lead and a possible finish.

For Gastelum, the key will be getting in and out with his striking.  He’s the faster fighter at 185 and has exhibited a great sense of range and timing in victories over Hendricks and Kennedy.  He should look to set up his hands with footwork, not staying right in front of Weidman long enough for him to set up a takedown or smother him in the clinch.

It should be noted that Weidman has a significant size and reach advantage over Gastelum.  Despite being the younger fighter, The Ultimate Fighter winner will find himself in serious trouble if he ends up on the ground under the former champion.  Also, he needs to be wary of getting caught in the clinch where he’ll have to deal with the large frame of Weidman.  Even with his speed, he gives Weidman an opportunity to get himself in the fight easily if he chooses to exchange in the center of the Octagon.

With the departure of Gegard Mousasi, a win for Gastelum would inject him into the crowded field of contenders at 185.  For Weidman, it is a critical tilt for his future in the division.  Three straight losses are enough cause for concern.  A fourth would have many questioning if Wediman is still able to compete at the elite level or if he needs to drop out of the rankings. The “All American” has the home field advantage in Long Island, and he’s going to need if he wants hold off Kelvin Gastelum’s rise at 185.