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Kelvin Gastelum doesn't think he deserves next title shot: 'I believe that Rory MacDonald should get it'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS -- In a world where even unranked fighters on losing streaks plead their case for a title shot, Kelvin Gastelum is taking the opposite approach.

The UFC welterweight is undefeated and has won five straight in the UFC. He's currently ranked No. 7 in the organization's official 170-pound rankings and has a chance to take a big step up if he beats Tyron Woodley at UFC 183 on Saturday.

But Gastelum is not calling his own number for the next shot against champion Robbie Lawler. Not even close.

"Honestly, I believe that Rory MacDonald should get it," Gastelum said. "That's my own personal opinion. He deserves it. He's [on] a three-fight winning streak, beat some of the best guys in the division and I believe he deserves it."

Gastelum's sentiment is shared by many. The UFC will have a decision on its hands about the distinction, but plenty of things still need to happen. There is this fight between Gastelum and Woodley and then Johny Hendricks vs. Matt Brown at UFC 185 on March 14 in Dallas. After that, MacDonald takes on Hector Lombard in the co-main event of UFC 186 on April 25 in Montreal.

Any of the competitors in those fights would be able to stake a claim at a title shot with a victory. Except for Gastelum -- at least in his mind.

"I think I haven't proven it to anybody to get the next title shot," he said.

Gastelum (10-0) is just 23 years old, but he has already accomplished quite a bit. He was the youngest 'The Ultimate Fighter' winner ever and owns victories over ranked fighters Jake Ellenberger and Rick Story. Woodley, of course, represents a significant step up in competition.

"I embrace it," Gastelum said. "I welcome it. I feel good. This is a huge opportunity for me. Any opportunity like this doesn't come very often. So when they offered me this fight, I jumped on it. Any fight that's gonna lead me toward that goal, I'm gonna take it."

That goal? A title shot, of course. Or maybe specifically, winning the title. UFC president Dana White has already said Gastelum would be considered for that No. 1 contender spot, which surprises the precocious Mexican-American star.

"It's flattering," Gastelum said. "He has a lot of faith in me, has faith in my abilities, where before he didn't, I guess. Or not that he didn't, but I don't think he thought that I would ever get to this point."

Then again, Gastelum himself didn't either.

"I didn't think it would happen this quickly, no for sure," Gastelum said. "But I knew that I would get to this point one day."

And here he is, facing off with a top-three opponent in the co-main event of a card headlined by luminaries Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz. What the fight and Woodley represent is simple.

"To make a step up to the elite," Gastelum said. "Into that elite level, which I believe I belong and hope to prove it on Saturday night."