“So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16
If you followed The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen, you would know that the winner of the season and six-figure UFC contract was the “American Gangster” Chael Sonnen’s last pick on the show and youngest winner in TUF history, Kelvin Gastelum.
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Gastelum, who was born in San Jose, CA and raised in Arizona, spent one year at North Idaho College where he was on the wrestling team, before returning back home to begin his MMA career and taking his first fight at 19. Now 22, he won fight after fight on the show, and week after week he would win all of his fights. In the TUF Finale, he was once again the underdog, with many not giving him a chance to beat his teammate on the show Uriah Hall. I went on record saying he would beat Hall and after the fight, considered him one of the better welterweights in the world, despite him fighting at middleweight.
Gastelum dropped down to 170, and in his first fight at welterweight defeated Brain Melancon by rear naked choke in the first round in August, which put him at an unblemished 7-0 record.
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He was slated to fight Court McGee in December, but had to withdraw due to a torn PCL in his knee.
“I went up to Canada to help George St. Pierre with his fight against Johny Hendricks,” Gastelum said. “On the last sparring day, I went with Rory McDonald and he threw a leg kick and I checked it. It was weird, because when I put my foot down I felt my leg go weak.”
After the injury, Gastelum went to Utah to be treated by Dr. Edwards who is known for helping professional athletes with these types of injuries and now Gastelum says he’s fine.
“I went and saw the doctor and tried to do all the right things and now I’m 100%,” he said. “I won’t even think twice about my injury.”
Gastelum is set to fight Rick Story (16-7) at UFC 171 in Dallas March 15, and there were reports that he he had asked to fight Story who is ranked #14 in the welterweight division.
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“I had texted (UFC President) Dana White about it,” Gastelum said. “There was a rumor that Story was going to fight Tyrone Woodley and then I found out that he got Carlos Condit. When that happened I texted Dana about a fight with Story and that’s how it happened.
Gastelum was invited by Hendricks to train with him in Dallas for his main event fight against Robbie Lawler, and has set-up camp there for his fight against Story as well.
Kano: Weren’t you training at Reign MMA in Orange County, CA?
Gastelum: I was, but decided to go back home, then got an invite to train with Hendricks and here I am.
Kano: Are you there just to help him out?
Gastelum: No, not really. I’m helping but at the same time I need a training camp as well.
Kano: Did you ever think that you might have to fight him one day and would you?
Gastelum: I guess I hadn’t thought about it to be honest. I guess when that moment comes, we’ll see.
Kano: When we talked back in August, I thought you were one of the top welterweights, but you said you didn’t think you were quite there yet. Has that changed?
Gastelum: I don’t think I’ll feel I’m one of the best welterweights until I prove it to myself and others and beat the top welterweights. I’m working hard to reach that level. I’m working on that every day.
Kano: Would you want a top ten opponent if you beat Story?
Gastelum: I don’t know about top 10, but top 15, we’ll see. I definitely don’t want to take a step back, but I want to climb the ranks.
Kano: Being the youngest TUF champion ever and at 22, you seem to stay grounded and also see you’re a Christian.
Gastelum: I keep to myself. I’ll be open about being a Christian, I don’t judge others, but I don’t have any issue or ashamed of being one. And my mom, she keeps me grounded and am very faith based. That’s just who I am I guess.
There aren’t too many occasions where I can look at a fighter early on from his career and say ‘he’s going to be a champion,’ because face it, there’s only 9 divisions and hundreds of fighters signed to the UFC. I knew that Cain Velasquez would be champion early on, and thought the same of Jon Jones early on, and sure enough both went on to become champions.
And watching Kelvin Gastelum fight, see his maturity and hear his thoughts — I believe that the same holds true of him, as his future looks bright and I think his dream to be world champion will one day come to fruition. Because sometimes, once in awhile, the last do end up finishing first.
David Kano is lead writer for MMA Show News and co-host of The Hollywood MMA Show. You can follow him on Twitter @TheDKano.
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