Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
When 2019 started, Kelvin Gastelum was convinced he was about to become UFC middleweight champion. By the end of the year, he didn’t have a title around his waist and he was sitting with two losses in a row.
It all started this past February when Gastelum was scheduled to face Robert Whittaker for the undisputed middleweight title. Just hours before they were supposed to face off, Whittaker had to drop out of the fight due to a medical emergency and Gastelum had to endure a long flight home from Australia without the title.
Two months later with Whittaker still sidelined, Gastelum got a shot at an interim belt instead.
Despite engaging in a Fight of the Year candidate with Israel Adesanya over five rounds, Gastelum still came up short and ultimately lost a unanimous decision. Fast forward to November 2019 and Gastelum dropped his second straight decision after a lackluster outing against Darren Till.
Now just days away from his return to action against Jack Hermansson on UFC Fight Island 2, Gastelum admits he had to face some mental hurdles that tested him as much as any opponent inside the octagon.
“Last year in February, I was supposed to fight for the title. In my head, I was going to be the world champion,” Gastelum explained on Thursday. “Then that didn’t happen. Fought in April, lost. Fought in November and lost.
“I think I did go through a little bit of depression. I gained like 30 pounds. Had an injury. Had to recover from that. So I had to battle some demons in my off time.”
While he offers no excuses for the loss to Till last year, Gastelum previously revealed that he felt like he returned too soon after such an epic war with Adesanya earlier in the year.
That setback forced Gastelum to address some personal issues that were plaguing him as well as a nagging knee injury that eventually led to surgery.
“Just some personal stuff going on behind the scenes in my life,” Gastelum explained. “We eliminated that aspect and I feel like a resurgence in me. I really enjoyed the process for this camp, which hasn’t really been the case in the past. Waking up and training and dieting and losing the weight, I enjoyed every single day of this process. I’m in a good place mentally, physically. I’m ready to go.
“I know people at home are going through worse things than I ever was, going through their own personal battles. Here I am on the other side. I worked through my own personal demons. I’m OK.”
As he prepares for his fight this weekend, Gastelum feels like he’s in a better place now than ever before.
He’s rejuvenated and ready to stake his claim as one of the best middleweight fighters in the world.
“I’m actually in a really good place, mentally and physically, which really wasn’t the case for my last two fights,” Gastelum said. “I’m not putting any excuses. There’s a lot of things that go behind the scenes for a lot of fighters but it’s in the past, it’s neither here nor there.
“Now I’m in a good place mentally, physically. I feel really good coming into this fight. I battled [my demons], I conquered them, and here I am, ready to go.”
While he’s putting the past behind him as he embarks on a new campaign in 2020, Gastelum still hopes to revisit one of his past losses that still irks him more than all the rest.
“I thought I wanted a rematch before,” Gastelum said when addressing the Darren Till loss. “I lost to guys like Neil Magny. I lost to Tyron Woodley. I felt like maybe I’d like to have a rematch with those guys. But the feeling that I got after fighting Till, I’ve never wanted a rematch more than I want that. I would love to run that back.
“All respect to Darren Till. He had a great, phenomenal game plan that night. He beat me fair and square. But anybody that knows me, anybody that knows my style and that has seen me in my fights in the past, knows that wasn’t me fighting at 100 percent. So I’d love to be able to run it back.”