Enemy territory or no, Kelvin Gastelum is confident ahead of UFC 234, where he challenges Robert Whittaker for middleweight gold. After all, he’s been in this situation before.
Kelvin Gastelum is embarking on the greatest quest of his career when he heads to Australia next month to take on Robert Whittaker for the UFC’s middleweight title. That bout, at UFC 234, puts the exclamation point on their rather friendly rivalry, which included a stint coaching opposite one another on The Ultimate Fighter.
Speaking to media outlets including Cageside Press on Tuesday, the challenger was brimming with confidence ahead of the fight. He also spoke of what brought him to this point. Including his team, and his time on The Ultimate Fighter.
When it comes to his team, he’s footing the bill to have everyone out to Australia (the UFC generally pays airfare for a set number of corners). “Whatever I need, they help me out. It’s crucial that I bring my own team,” Gastelum noted Tuesday.
Beyond just the support of his team, there was also his time on TUF. A show he returned to as coach on The Ultimate Fighter 28, the most recent season of the show. In the end, he tried to emulate his time there on his old coach on the show, Chael Sonnen.
“I was just trying to help these guys out the way that I was helped out. Trying to mentor them the way that Chael did, and his team,” Gastelum explained. “In my experience the way that Chael and his team ran that whole team for my TUF, is that way that I tried to emulate it for that TUF  as well. It worked out great, I felt like the whole team environment was just as good as it was in my season. So it worked out great.”
“I’ve been fighting in the UFC for seven years, and there’s no other way to be successful than to learn and to grow and to expand your mind,” Gastelum later added. “To really just grow and embrace this life. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be fighting for the title. I would have been down and out.”
Yet he’s not down and out. After a tumultuous run at welterweight, where the TUF 17 winner struggled to make weight on numerous occasions, Gastelum found a second lease on his fighting life at 185lbs. Wins over former champ Michael Bisping and top contender Jacare Souza propelled him into this fight with Whittaker.
And it’s safe to say he’s brimming with confidence. Despite Whittaker having home field advantage. “I’ve been in this position where I’m not the hometown guy,” Gastelum pointed out. “I go out, I fought Jacare in Brazil, in Rio. Fought Wiedman literally in his back yard in Long Island. Fought Vitor in Fortaleza. This is not the first time I’ve been in this kind of position. The biggest thing I take away from it is that I can thrive in this kind of environment.”
“I lost against Weidman, but I don’t mind being under this kind of pressure,” he finished.
As for any title defense after he wins? That will have to be in L.A. or Vegas, where his family can attend. That should come after his prediction for the fight comes true: a first round knockout.
UFC 234 takes place February 10 (February 9 in North America) at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. Catch the full media lunch scrum with Kelvin Gastelum above.