Photo: Vaughn Ridley (Getty Images)
Kelvin Gastelum stands on the doorstep of a career-defining achievement.
The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner will challenge Robert Whittaker for the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title in the UFC 234 main event on Saturday at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. Gastelum enters the match on the strength of back-to-back victories over former champion Michael Bisping and two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Ronaldo Souza. The 27-year-old Arizonan operates out of the Kings MMA camp, where he trains under the legendary Rafael Cordeiro.
As Gastelum prepares for his high-stakes battle with Whittaker, here are five things you should know about him:
1. He was forged on wrestling’s anvil.
Gastelum won a state wrestling championship at Cibola High School in Yuma, Arizona, in 2009. However, he was not the first “Ultimate Fighter” winner the school has produced. It was also once home to Efrain Escudero, who won Season 8 of the long-running reality series.
2. Output has become a calling card.
Since he made his promotional debut at The Ultimate Fighter 17 finale in April 2013, Gastelum has been one of the middleweight division’s busiest strikers. According to FightMetric data, he lands 3.72 strikes per minute — good for seventh among active fighters at 185 pounds behind Whittaker (5.00), Jack Hermansson (4.92), Luke Rockhold (4.91), Court McGee (4.77), Thiago Santos (4.59) and Elias Theodorou (4.17).
3. His pre-MMA job offered more intrigue than most.
Prior to being cast on The Ultimate Fighter and pursuing his MMA training on a full-time basis, Gastelum served as a bail bondsman in Arizona.
4. He has grown accustomed to looking up at the opposition.
Gastelum at 5-foot-9 is the shortest middleweight on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster. Whittaker will have a three-inch height advantage on him.
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5. Matchmakers have tested him at every turn.
Whittaker will be the eighth opponent Gastelum has faced who has won either a UFC or Strikeforce championship. He has compiled a 4-2 record against Souza, Bisping, Nate Marquardt, Johny Hendricks and Tyron Woodley. The technical knockout victory he scored over Vitor Belfort on March 11, 2017 was changed to a no-contest after Gastelum tested positive for marijuana during a post-fight drug screen.