Ahead of the most important fight of his career, you won’t catch Kelvin Gastelum engaging in a war of words.
A cordial approach to promotion is par for the course for Gastelum, even as he prepares to fight the verbose Israel Adesanya for an interim middleweight title in the co-main event of UFC 236 on April 13. The stakes are clear for him: A shot to add a UFC belt to the trophy case and hand Adesanya the first loss of his MMA career.
That’s all the motivation Gastelum needs and so far it seems the same is true for Adesanya. “The Last Stylebender” has been respectful and actually said he was “excited” about the prospect of fighting Gastelum. Even if the trash talk does ramp up during fight week, it’s unlikely to reach the level of some of their more fiery UFC peers.
Gastelum was in Los Angeles for a media lunch on Thursday, and he was asked for his thoughts on the increasingly ugly feud between rivals Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor that has some fans and pundits wondering whether both men have gone beyond the pale with their insults.
“I just think that there is some lines that shouldn’t be crossed and this rivalry going on right now is escalating to a point where it shouldn’t have to,” Gastelum said. “And I feel like if it keeps escalating the way it is, somebody’s going to end up getting hurt or shot or something. I truly believe that.”
Nurmagomedov and McGregor already had their chance to settle the score in the Octagon when they met at UFC 229 last October. There, Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title with a fourth-round submission of McGregor in a bout that was supposed to be the culmination of a lengthy feud that featured questionable outside-the-cage antics from both men. Instead, the situation arguably worsened when Nurmagomedov immediately climbed over the cage following his win and attacked McGregor’s cornerman Dillon Danis, sparking a brief melee.
Suspensions and fines were handed out to Nurmagomedov, McGregor, and their associates who were involved, but the bad blood does not appear to have settled. Their latest public attacks on each other have been deeply personal and Gastelum thinks that some subjects must be considered off-limits regardless of the volatile nature of the fight business.
“You shouldn’t mess with people’s wives. You shouldn’t mess with people’s family or religion, absolutely,” Gastelum said.
Should tensions escalate between himself and Adesanya, Gastelum doesn’t sound worried. UFC 236 will mark his 15th walk to the Octagon and by now he’s seen and heard it all.
“There’s so many people that have tried to get under my skin and I have a pretty thick skin,” Gastelum said. “I don’t play into that stuff.”
If anything, Gastelum has learned to roll with the punches, and not just those from his fellow fighters. The 27-year-old showed uncharacteristic bravado at UFC 234 in February, walking around Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, with a UFC belt and declaring himself to be the true champion when a hernia knocked undisputed middleweight titleholder Robert Whittaker out of their main event meeting just hours before showtime.
He heard it from the fans, many of whom were there to see the Australian-based Whittaker defend his title, and he admits that the reaction was refreshing.
“I enjoyed doing it,” Gastelum said. “Definitely out of my character, but I enjoyed doing it. It was cool. Got some boos, got some applause, got people calling me a wanker. It was cool, it was something different and I enjoyed it.”