Kelvin Gastelum was preparing to face a Brazilian legend at UFC Shanghai, but the stakes have been raised as British icon Michael Bisping steps in on three weeks’ notice.
It is an argument for which story is the most shocking just weeks out from UFC Shanghai: that Anderson Silva’s career could be at an end following a potential doping violation or that Michael Bisping steps up less than a month after losing his title to face rising star Kelvin Gastelum. They are on opposite trajectories. One is a young up-and-comer who has years in the game ahead of him. The other is an icon who has already planned the night of his retirement just months from Saturday.
Firstly, “The Spider” has likely run out of answers at this stage. If found guilty, this would be his second doping violation in three years and there is no question he would need an ironclad argument to avoid a suspension. Considering the precedent set by USADA, any punishment to Silva at 42 years of age would virtually end his career when considering the hurdles he would have to face to return from a layoff. It would be an unfortunate ending to what would still go down as one of the greatest MMA careers of all-time.
In enters Michael “The Count” Bisping who was last seen only three weeks ago rallying back against Georges St-Pierre before being submitted by the Canadian superstar. There has been plenty of controversy surrounding Bisping’s quick turn around. From his appearances, it would appear that the superficial damage of his cuts and bruises from the fight have healed. However, the real question is how well he can take damage considering he was dropped several times in the fight with St-Pierre. Gastelum may not possess the technical brilliance of GSP, but he has the speed, size, and power to hurt Bisping just the same if not more if the former champion is compromised.
More recently, Bisping has stated that his plan is to conclude his UFC career in London this upcoming March. He stated that it was his plan regardless but that the opportunity to fight Gastelum on short notice appealed to him. When his request went through to Dana White, it can be assumed that Bisping’s star power served to give him the slot considering the loss of Silva at short notice likely put the event in jeopardy.
While Bisping’s willingness to battle against a hungry contender on short notice is commendable, it’s obvious that he is taking risks to his self-proposed plans. Gastelum is a tough outing at any time, but three weeks after a match with St-Pierre puts the odds against him. Considering the variety of things that can happen in MMA, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Bisping takes damage in a win or loss that keeps him out of action in March.
For Kelvin Gastelum, the opportunity to knock off an all-time great in Silva is lost but he arguably gets a better shot at raising his profile in two divisions with Bisping. After being outworked by the bigger and more powerful Chris Weidman in July, he stated his next fight would be at 170 pounds. Despite his success at middleweight, there is no question Gastelum gives up several physical advantages against the upper-echelon at 185.
Furthermore, it’s no secret that his reason for fighting at middleweight is because of his self-admitted struggle with his weight and diet between fights. While a win over Bisping moves him up the 185 rankings, he could easily parlay it into a marquee fight at 170 if he chooses to. Considering his razor-close loss to champion Tyron Woodley, knocking off the recently dethroned middleweight champion and then moving back down to welterweight could leap-frog Gastelum ahead of several contenders.
Stylistically, Bisping’s size and experience on paper should be enough to give Gastelum problems. “The Count” consistently brings an incredible gas tank and maintains a high volume as the fight goes on. On short notice, it can be assumed the game plan is to patiently out-point Gastelum in the early rounds and increase his output as the fight continues.
For the TUF 17 winner, the key will be to use his speed and explosiveness early. Gastelum has some of the best movement at middleweight but doesn’t often carry his incredible power to the later rounds. As shown in the fight with St-Pierre, Bisping is a notoriously durable competitor and Gastelum should look to take risks to get the finish early rather than trying to win a marathon battle with “The Count.”
Gastelum provides a penultimate peril for the now-former middleweight champion, but his willingness to take the fight under the circumstances says everything one needs to know about his warrior spirit. A hungry contender seeks the biggest victory of his career. An icon of European MMA wants to start the first act of his grand finale in style. At UFC Shanghai, they will fly across the world to determine who will write the next chapter in their story.