Beyond The Odds series shines a spotlight on the intangibles of 3 fighters for each UFC card. Here are three of the more intriguing fighters competing at UFC 236 this Saturday evening in Atlanta, Georgia.
Kelvin Gastelum has come a long way from being the last fighter picked by Chael Sonnen on season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter. Don’t let the short stature and pudgy frame fool you. The 27 year-old Kings MMA southpaw is incredibly well-rounded, and possesses many of the tools necessary to be successful at the highest level inside the UFC’s Octagon.
Take one look at Kelvin Gastelum as he makes his walk to the cage, and you’ll see a cool, calm, and collected individual who not only exudes confidence. But, also someone who is a believer in fulfilling their own destiny. In a recent UFC 236 media interview, Gastelum shared “The time is now for me. I’ve been through ups and downs in my career. It’s been very public, and all those events, the good and the bad, have led me to this point.” Gastelum realizes this is the time to seize the moment in front of him.
Kelvin Gastelum sits as a +150 underdog as he takes on City Kickboxing’s Israel Adesanya for the Interim Middleweight title. Adesanya, a gifted kick-boxer with precision striking, lighting quick reflexes, and an enormous 80” reach, has made many opponents look flat out silly en route to posting a 16-0 professional record. “The Last Stylebender” has rattled off 5 UFC wins since his debut for the organization in February of 2018, and looks to continue his winning ways on April 13th. Proceed with caution, as Kelvin Gastelum has plans of his own to flip the script on an opponent who may look to exploit his inferior size. Gastelum states “My disadvantage, I’ve learned to make it into an advantage.” When referring to his height, he shares ”I’m able to get under guys real easy. I’ve learned how to do that, and maintain my range despite my limited capabilities.” Expect Gastelum, a Welterweight turned Middleweight, to force the issue, and wade through the pocket with nimble footwork and a granite chin. Getting inside one way or another, Kelvin will rely on crisp boxing, a strong wrestling pedigree, and his 10th Planet Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt to implement his will. There are many tools at Gastelum’s disposal, so don’t be surprised to see Adesanya on his back at some point during the fight. Something to note is that Kings MMA head coach, Master Rafael Cordeiro, has a history preparing for Adesanya with Gastelum’s training partner, Marvin Vettori, who took “The Last Stylebender” to a controversial split-decision less than one year ago. This should be a phenomenal fight for as long as it lasts, with both fighters shining at times. I’m expecting Gastelum to weather an early storm on his way to scoring the upset.
Boston “Boom Boom” Salmon, the first winner on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series back in 2017, is finally set to make his UFC debut under the bright lights at 135lbs. If this fight against a 12-2 Khalid Taha is anything like his previous bouts, those in attendance will be in for a real treat. Salmon, the 6-1 Hawaiian boxer fighting out of Xtreme Couture, relies on his roots in the sweet science, has a knack for staying composed, and makes every strike count. “Boom Boom”, a 28 year-old former Ringside National amateur boxing standout, has shared the ring with many skilled fighters, including world-famous pugilist, Errol Spence Jr.
Look for Salmon, the -125 favorite, to make the most of a low-volume tactical approach, as he uses his striking defense and 3.5” reach to methodically pick Khalid Taha apart over the course of 3 rounds. Taha, a German fighter of Lebanese descent, who is arriving for his first US fight, may look to put on a frenetic pace early as he’s done before to test Salmon’s takedown defense in what should be an entertaining bout.
Max “Blessed” Holloway makes the long awaited move up to Lightweight as a -225 favorite to take on a former foe, and one of his biggest tests in Dustin Poirier as he looks to secure a second title. These two combatants crossed paths in the infancy of their professional careers at Featherweight back in 2012, with Poirier securing a late first-round submission victory. At the time, Holloway was the youngest fighter on the UFC ‘s roster at only 20 years of age, and looked nothing like he does today. In fact, during a recent interview with Luke Thomas, Holloway shared “I was 146.5 pounds the day before weigh-ins.”. Holloway has come a long way since the first fight with Poirier, and now stands with an impressive 20-3 professional record to go along with his Featherweight championship belt.
Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway have seen their fair share of success in recent bouts. Holloway currently rides a 13-fight winning streak, and Poirier is on a 4-fight winning streak of his own. What makes this fight interesting besides the fact that both fighters are at the top of their respective games, is that it takes place up a weight class for Max at 155lbs. We’ve seen Poirier shine at Lightweight. What can we expect from Holloway at 155lbs.? When pressed about whether or not he can match the pace that made him so great at Featherweight, he responded simply by saying “We’re about find out April 13th. I feel I can keep this speed, maybe a little bit more.” I’m a believer in Max Holloway and his abilities. The fact is he’s facing an ultra-motivated Dustin Poirier, who possesses a 4-inch reach advantage, and had a clear grappling advantage 7 years ago. A lot can change in 7 years.
I expect Poirier to come out sharp early and fair well in the opening rounds, which should be hotly contested. The later the fight goes, the more we’ll see Holloway step on the gas pedal and chip away at “The Diamond”, who has absorbed massive damage in many of his recent fights. Poirier knows who he is dealing with here, and his best shot may be to take calculated risks by attempting a variety of fight ending techniques early, which is easier said than done. I’m predicting Holloway to win by late TKO stoppage in what should be a fight for the ages.
UFC 236: Kelvin Gastelum Media Lunch- MMA Fighting
Max Holloway In Studio: ‘Grimier Dustin Poirier’, Conor-Khabib Beef SiriusXM Luke Thomas