“It’s been quite a roller coaster,” Kelvin Gastelum said of the last year or so of his life. “I’ve had to battle some demons, this off time.”
The coronavirus pandemic was a blessing in disguise, Gastelum added, because “I was able to work through that. I felt like I did fall into depression, I did get into my feelings a little bit in my off time because of what happened. I had a pretty tough year, but I worked through it.”
The comments came at the UFC Fight Island 2 virtual media day, with Gastelum speaking to outlets including Cageside Press.
Of course, no fighter likes to lose. But Gastelum’s losses were particularly hard to swallow. The Ultimate Fighter winner had expected to fight Robert Whittaker for the middleweight title in February 2019. But when Whittaker pulled out, Gastelum wound up in an interim title fight just a few months later, against Israel Adesanya.
In a close fight that was considered by many to be Fight of the Year, it was Adesanya, not Gastelum, getting his hand raised. All of a sudden, the title shot he had worked so hard for had slipped through Kelvin Gastelum’s fingers. Adesanya went on to unify the title, defeating Whittaker. Gastelum, meanwhile, lost another close fight, to Darren Till at UFC 244.
All that makes this weekend’s fight against Jack Hermansson, the co-main event of UFC Fight Island 2, “super-important,” Gastelum admitted.
“Obviously, if I want to get back to the title shot. But more than anything, I’m looking for self-validation,” he admitted. “I want to be able to prove to myself that I am worthy, and that I do belong here. That I am one of the best middleweights in the world. And I plan to show that on Saturday.”
Saturday’s “Fight Island” setting — Yas Island in Abu Dhabi — is something Gastelum was quick to extol the virtues of. And he should know, given he’s been something of a world traveler during his UFC career.
“Oh my god, it’s probably the best event that I’ve fought at, to be honest. I’m not just saying that. I mean, the the customer service, the hospitality, the details and everything that is going on here,” exclaimed Gastelum. “The security, I mean, everybody’s just going above and beyond to make sure that fighters here are well taken care of. And man, this has been the best place that I’ve ever fought at when it comes to the location.”
Watch the full UFC Fight Island 2 virtual media day press scrum with Kelvin Gastelum above.