UFC 236: Gastelum vs. Adesanya Preview

UFC 236 in Atlanta, Ga, is set to be interim title fights galore. Both the main and co-main events will have interim gold on the line, as undisputed champions Khabib Nurmagomedov and Robert Whittaker are on the sidelines due to suspension and injury respectively.

First up, the co-main event, where No. 4 ranked middleweight Kelvin Gastelum (15-3), is set to take on the undefeated, No. 5 ranked Israel Adesanya (16-0).

This was the fight to make in the middleweight division once Whittaker was forced to pull out of his title defense against Gastelum in February due to a medical emergency. With Gastelum desperate, and raring to have his shot at the gold — and Adesanya on a tear, taking out everyone who is put in front of him, this matchup was the only way to go.

Gastelum has not quite been able to put together a consistent win streak in his six years in the UFC, but since settling down in the middleweight division back in 2016, he has only lost once (3-1, 1NC), and appears to be ready for his first title shot.

The California natives most recent outing came almost a year ago. A fight of the night, split decision victory over Jacare Souza put Gastelum as the next in line to try dethrone Robert Whittaker. And as that fight got pulled off the card in February, Gastelum was not letting go of the opportunity he was so close to receiving.

As the 27-year-old began parading around Melbourne with the title belt, claiming to be the real champion, Dana White granted him another crack at setting up a date with the reigning champ.

That opportunity being in the shape of “The Last Stylebender,” Israel Adesanya.

The New Zealander was also on the card in February, in a bout against Anderson Silva, which was dubbed as the No. 1 contender fight by White himself.

Adesanya and Silva ended up headlining that card, as the student took down the master to cement himself as the next in line for the middleweight strap.

Despite Adesanya’s performance in that fight not being as dominant as UFC fans may have gotten accustomed to, it was still a convincing, unanimous decision victory in what was an emotional night for the 29-year-old, as he got to take on his childhood hero.

Saturday night will be a title fight debut for both challengers. A matchup that will be a big test for both, and an opportunity to make a major statement for whoever comes out victorious.

Gastelum will step into the Octagon riding a two-fight win streak, and he is set to be up against a significant size discrepancy as Adesanya is seven inches taller and will have an 8.5-inch reach advantage.

But in spite of that, Gastelum is arguably the hardest hitting opponent that Adesanya has had to face in his career, and the New Zealander will have to be wary of that as Gastelum comes inside swinging.

For Adesanya, this will be his sixth fight in 14 months. And while there has been no signs of fatigue, “The Last Stylebender’s” concentration will have to be at an all-time high in this one, as one lapse can result in going unconscious against an opponent of Gastelum’s power.

The world No. 5 has shown off an arsenal of skills in his five Octagon appearances. But as he continues his pursuit of becoming one of the greats, each fight is going to be his biggest challenge. This Saturday being no different.

The keys to victory this weekend differ for both fighters.

Adesanya has demonstrated what he is capable of as a striker. He is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. The length advantage that he will carry into the Octagon this weekend will allow him to do exactly what he is one of the best at, and that is picking his shots while fighting at distance.

On the other hand, Gastelum is going to have to get very close in order to find success in this one. The upside of that for the 27-year-old is that Adesanya hasn’t really been tested on the ground. And this is where despite all that power, Gastelum’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt could very well come into play and tilt the bout in his favor.

Regardless of where this fight ends up or how it will play out, it is a matchup worthy of headlining any event, as two of the world’s best will get to square off in the middle of the Octagon. The prize? Championship gold and a unification rendezvous with Robert Whittaker.


Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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