“I know that he’s been offered the fight against me twice and he has not been wanting to fight me,” Gastelum told Luke Thomas on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “And I think that’s for good reason. I think I give him the most difficult time if we step in the cage and I think he knows that. In my opinion, I match up horribly for him.”
Whittaker escaped with a split decision win over Yoel Romero in a non-title fight at UFC 225 last month. Romero missed weight, so it didn’t count as a title defense for the Australian champ. Gastelum, who was in attendance for that fight in Chicago, thought Romero did enough to win. But he’s glad it went the way it did.
“I thought Romero would have been getting the nod, but obviously he didn’t,” Gastelum said. “And selfishly I thought, I was hoping they’d give it to Whittaker. Just because Romero had missed weight, he wouldn’t have been getting the belt and then it just would have created this whole scenario where I’m definitely not getting the next shot. It just wouldn’t be a position where I would be fighting for a title any time soon.”
The problem for Gastelum is that another man can also make a claim to be the top contender at 185 pounds in the UFC: Chris Weidman. Gastelum has won two in a row against top guys Michael Bisping and Ronaldo Souza. Weidman, though, has beaten Gastelum. He finished him by third-round submission at UFC on FOX 25 in July 2017.
Weidman, the former middleweight champion, has not fought since that bout due to injury. And that’s one of the reasons why Gastelum thinks he’s next up.
“I don’t know how he feels he deserves it,” Gastelum said. “He’s been injured, he’s been out, unfortunately. But that’s just the way it goes. He says he’s the most decorated fighter, but that’s in the past, man. We’re talking about now. Active fighters, fighters who are winning fights and fighting in the big fights, they should be rewarded. And that should be me.”
Gastelum (15-3, 1 NC) is in a good spot, either way. After making the move up to middleweight due to weight-cutting struggles at 170 pounds, the Mexican-American fighter has lost just once, that defeat against Weidman. He’s knocked out Tim Kennedy and Vitor Belfort before his recent winning streak, though the fight against Belfort was overturned to a no contest due to a positive drug test for marijuana. Gastelum, at just 26 years old, is one of the top young talents in all of MMA. And he’d likely be near the top of the welterweight division, too, if he could manage that weight class.
For now, Gastelum is so close to the middleweight title shot he can almost taste it. The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner believes he has a strong case to face Whittaker next — and be the toughest challenge for the champ, to boot.
“Chris Weidman thinks that he should get the shot over me?” Gastelum said. “I was ranked ninth when he fought me. He was coming off a three-fight skid. Since we fought, I’ve fought two top-five guys, two former champions.”