WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Kelvin Gastelum has never been one to make headline-grabbing claims about how his upcoming fights are going to go down.
Not until the biggest matchup of his career, at least.
Gastelum will head to UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker’s home turf and challenge him for the title in the main event of UFC 234 on Feb. 9 in Melbourne, Australia.
And the Yuma, Ariz., native and Ultimate Fighter 17 winner has never felt more confident than he has going into the matchup, coming off back-to-back victories over former UFC middleweight champ Michael Bisping and former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
So Gastelum doesn’t mind saying he doesn’t think his bout with Whittaker at Rod Laver Arena will go long before he ends matters in a decisive manner.
“I’m predicting a first-round knockout,” Gastelum told reporters during a media day in the Los Angeles area Tuesday. “I’ve put in so much work and I feel so confident in my abilities and confident in what I’ve done in the sport that I’m predicting a first-round knockout.”
But Gastelum isn’t just predicting he’ll come home from Australia as the owner of one of those newfangled UFC legacy belts. Gastelum believes he’ll also be the man who goes on a dominant run at 185 pounds after what’s been something of a muddled period at the top of the division.
That period, which can be traced back to Bisping upsetting Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 in 2016, has included interim titles, champions missing long periods with injuries, and Georges St-Pierre coming out of retirement to beat Bisping and then vacate the belt.
And while Whittaker has emerged from this extended scrum as a legit champ, Gastelum believes he’s the fighter who best suited to go on a long run with the title.
“You’ve got guys like Borrachina [Paulo Costa] and you’ve got guys like Style Bender [Israel Adesanya] you’ve got Rob Whittaker who is still go going to be in the mix, he’s not going to go anywhere after the fight, you know what I mean?” Gastelum said. “You got Yoel Romero in the mix. The champion of this division has got his work cut out for him in his next few fights and I plan on doing just that, bring a little more legitimacy to the division, you know what I mean? For awhile it was GSP, and interim title, and then, so yeah. I want to be able to be the guy who brings legitimacy to the division.”
But first things first. Gastelum respects what Whittaker can do, but he still expects to get the job done at UFC 234.
“I know that if I clip them, anybody, I mean anybody in the world, not just Rob, anybody, when I cut my left hand in, he’s going down,” Gastelum said. “But yeah, Rob has a lot of heart. I’m expecting a hard-fought fight, but at the same time, I’m so prepared for this opportunity that I’m expecting it not to even be close.”