Following a five-round war with Israel Adesanya at UFC 236, Gastelum booked his next fight six months later. He didn’t quite feel like himself after coming up just short in his bid to capture the interim middleweight title.
“I realized I should have taken more time off after my fight against Israel,” Gastelum said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I felt like I needed to prove something after losing that title fight, and I kind of rushed myself back in there in a fight against Darren Till.
“Obviously, it didn’t work out in my favor. I wasn’t very emotionally invested in that fight. Obviously, I trained for that fight, and Darren Till had a great game plan for me and how to neutralize my game. I realized after that fight, I should have taken more time off.”
The three-round bout ended in a split decision loss and consecutive setbacks for Gastelum.
“It’s not like he outclassed me,” he said. “He might have landed one punch more than me or something. He didn’t outclass me. I don’t feel like he was the better man that night. I just feel like mentally, physically, emotionally, I was not there that night – on top of him having a really great game plan. He nullified all of the tools that I had.”
Never one to stay away from the gym for long, Gastelum kept training after the loss. But in January, he suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of action. Luckily, he wasn’t forced to go under the knife to repair the damage. But it forced him to the sidelines for a few months.
“I’ve been recovering from a torn LCL back in January – I had a full tear,” Gastelum revealed. “No surgery needed, thankfully. Just been doing therapy on it and reconstructive therapy on it. It’s about 85 or 90 percent there.
“I’m just starting to grapple a bit, starting to box again. I’m starting to kick again. Training is picking back up a little bit. Just at the right time. Hopefully by July — I don’t know where this whole pandemic thing will be by then — but I’m hoping to fight by July.”
Considering how the fight with Till played out, Gastelum is thankful for the time off, even if it wasn’t under ideal circumstances.
“This injury was kind of a blessing in disguise, where I was able to take that time off to heal up physically, mentally and emotionally after that last year that I had,” he said.
Now that he’s back in the gym, Gastelum is anxious to book his next fight so he can begin the climb back up the middleweight ranks.
After splitting four rounds with Adesanya this past April, Gastelum was five minutes away from becoming champion, but he ultimately came up short. That loss still stings, but it’s also served as motivation to work his way back to another shot at gold.
“You work your whole life toward this type of opportunity, and I lost,” Gastelum said. “It burns in my soul to be that close to a dream that you’ve had for the longest time, which is to be world champion. It burns my soul. But at the same time, I don’t want to be one of those guys 10 years from now that says, ‘I was that close, one round away from beating the champion.’
“No, I want to be able to say I did it. I’m still going to work through, I’m still going to make another run. I’m only 28 years old. I don’t even think I’ve hit my physical prime yet. I feel like I’ve got a lot of room to grow and I’m excited for it.”
As far as what comes next, Gastelum is open to just about any fight against another top-ranked middleweight, though there is one name in particular that stands out when he scans the division for potential opponents.
“I like to be able to fight anybody in the top-five,” Gastelum said. “In my opinion, a fight with Jack Hermansson would make sense. We’re both coming off losses. He’s in the top-five. A win for either of us would take us where we need to go.
“We both need to work our way back up the division, back up to Adesanya. I feel that’s the one that makes sense, but you never know what the matchmakers are thinking.”