The UFC needs stars. There’s no way around it. Putting on great fights is also important but how great is a fight if no one sees it?
Now obviously if you’re reading this you probably care regardless, I love MMA and I don’t need a huge name on a card to get me to buy into it. The UFC knows this. They know if they put on fights, fans will watch them. They are the premium organization in MMA and because of that don’t have to work too hard to get fight fans on their side. What the UFC needs is the people who don’t watch every card. The people who don’t look at a fight card and think there are some good fights on there, they look for names. With no Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar in 2017, the company is looking to build new stars who can break through into mainstream media and attract fans into pay per views.
Look at the efforts to make a main event for UFC 219. Holly Holm vs Cris Cyborg has already been made, neither are the biggest draws but the UFC will be hoping that this fight breaks through into pop culture. The other fight that has been rumoured over the last couple weeks is Tyron Woodley vs Nate Diaz. Diaz is one of the bigger names in the UFC if not the biggest in the absence of Conor and Ronda. Nate is a double-edged sword for the UFC however. Whether you love him or hate him he is entertaining, to say the least. His bad boy persona wins fans over and being put on the stage of two fights vs Conor McGregor, the general public saw what us MMA fans have seen for a very long time. Nate Diaz is a god damn gangster. This attitude makes him hard to deal with from a business side, the reason the fight hasn’t been made is rumoured to be because Diaz is demanding more money. This shows the UFC is really trying to put stars out there.
So why are we talking about this? Well, if the UFC cannot create stars by spotting talent and backing them, sometimes stars create themselves. A key point of this year in MMA is the emergence of Darren Till. By knocking out Donald Cerrone in the first round he put himself on the map as the majority of the MMA world was stunned by young Till. This bout in particular though took place on a Fight Night in Poland on Fight Pass so not a ton of people saw it. The fact the UFC potentially has two Fight Nights coming up at the start of 2018 in England is a very positive thing for Till. Hopefully, one of those is headlined by Till and he crosses over into public knowledge in England at least.
The reason I am talking about this right now of all times though is that I believe another star has just broken out in Kelvin Gastelum. A guy who I watched when he was on the Ultimate Fighter and wasn’t exactly taken back, I just felt he was fairly well rounded compared to the other guys and therefore beat them. I felt the same for a while about him until more recently. Then I saw what was so special about Gastelum and he began to display it more. Kelvin Gastelum has really come out of his shell in his last few fights in my eyes. His move up to middleweight has made him more reliant on his skills as he is always the smaller guy. Though he is incredibly well rounded, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a very entertaining fighter to watch. Gastelum’s striking is amazing. He doesn’t throw a whole lot of kicks but he doesn’t have to, when fighting bigger guys leg kicks are less of a reality due to the threat of being taken down. His boxing is phenomenal though. Every aspect of his boxing is so well refined and he has the power to go with it as evident in his last fight versus Michael Bisping. Bisping is a very tough fight for anybody whether he is stepping in at late notice or not. The guy was born to fight. To out strike and catch a man who has been kickboxing and fighting since he could walk is no easy task. To catch Bisping on the chin and stop him is a near impossible task. Gastelum certainly doesn’t have that one punch power wind up of Dan Henderson but what he does have is an accuracy and pop to his punches that makes him look like a lifelong boxer. Few fighters in the UFC have the slickness in boxing that Kelvin has, Garbrandt, Masvidal and Diaz all come to mind. He possesses such an attractive style to his striking as well, it’s such stylish technique. The guy starts fast as well and patiently waits for his opportunity, this makes him so much fun to watch. The truth to grappling is that it isn’t attractive to a casual fan or member of the public unless its Ronda Rousey judo flipping somebody into an armbar. The good thing for Gastelum is his wrestling is very strong and his tenth planet ju-jitsu is very underrated. For what it’s worth his grappling is somewhat more appealing to the average fan and against much bigger middleweights he is unlikely to shoot a takedown, especially with such dynamite in his hands.
An exciting fighting style, unfortunately, isn’t enough to make a star, you need that extra something. Gastelum isn’t a trash talker and isn’t going to get in people’s faces, the guy is too nice. What Kelvin is, is the underdog. The ultimate fighter proved this. The guy was picked last. No one had him picked to win, especially over the Anderson Silva like Uriah Hall who was sending people to the hospital left and right. At welterweight, he looked good but since going up to middleweight he has looked amazing. Though I do think he is much more suited to welterweight, the guy is knocking much bigger guys out. Another part to him is he is very marketable as a fighter and I believe is a great role model for the sport. He has Latin American blood which will surely make him popular in these areas when it comes to selling out venues. Despite his issues with making weight, he looks the part and speaks very well making him a good figure to represent your sport. The guy is game for a fight and has no problem being the smaller guy. He has shown good character, especially on The Ultimate Fighter when he was so underrated. The one flag is his fight with Vitor was ruled a no contest, the ridiculous thing is this is because he tested positive for marijuana which I don’t believe should be a serious flag and should definitely not discount the fight. It isn’t performance enhancing!
In a time when the UFC needs stars, this year has seen some emerge. Gastelum has to be one of them. The guy acts like a professional and a champion. His technique is slick and his character is very likeable. Don’t get me wrong, what attracts lots of fans is trash talking and a bit of bad blood which you aren’t going to get with Kelvin, what you do get is a great role model for the sport who is going to be your champion one day. He has a lot of the qualities of Cody Garbrandt, someone the UFC is putting their money behind however he swaps out the sometimes brash and aggressive style of Cody with a calmer and calculated take. Kelvin is great to watch in and out of the cage and shows a real passion for fighting. He wants to fight Robert Whittaker in Australia for the interim middleweight belt next year and whilst Whittaker will most likely wait to see if he gets the chance to fight GSP, I’m sure the UFC would love to have these two young and very exciting fighters go at it on a big stage. One of those men, possibly both, could leave Australia a star and the UFC middleweight champion.
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