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When Kelvin Gastelum won the UFC’s reality television series competition, “The Ultimate Fighter,” nearly six years ago as a 21-year-old, he made some sizable assumptions.
“Stack up a couple wins, beat a few contenders, get my title shot and this is a fairytale book ending,” Gastelum recalls.
Reflecting on that mindset now as he nears Saturday night’s UFC 234 pay-per-view main event versus middleweight champion Robert Whittaker in Melbourne, Australia, Huntington Beach-trained Gastelum concedes, “I was immature, young and dumb … it doesn’t quite work out that way.”
Maturity has come after he twice missed weight trying to make the excruciating cuts to welterweight, and he submitted a positive marijuana result that cost him a victory over former champion Vitor Belfort.
“I’ve had some deep lows, but in this sport, you also have the highest of highs. I’ve had all of it. I’ve paid my dues, climbed the ranks without trash talk,” he said. “I feel like now is the time where Kelvin Gastelum reigns as champion.
“You definitely learn from mistakes and adversity and I feel like those setbacks are a catapult to your true destiny. Those things needed to happen for me to be molded to the person I am now, who can handle these things. Now, I’m mature enough to handle these pressures, this long camp – all of it.”
Gastelum (15-3) has defeated former champion Michael Bisping and veteran contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza to reach Australia’s Whittaker, 28, who has fought only once since claiming the belt in July 2017.
The assignment to the champion’s home country feels like the culmination of the journey – not only the UFC portion, but in navigating life from his hometown of Yuma, Ariz.
“It’s a border town with a lot of immigrant families,” Gastelum said. “When you’re an immigrant family, the upbringing, the mentality and the opportunities are all different. It’s pretty difficult to do anything where I’m from. To be able to reach any level of success, you have to take it for yourself. The people that come out of that city, it’s a result of hard work. Nothing is handed out.
“And I know they’re not just going to give me a title. I have to earn it. Rob’s Australian. I have to come to Australia and take it from him. That’s why I’m here. It’s not the first time I’ve had to travel to fight someone in their home country. I’m perfectly OK being in this position.”
Gastelum, in training at Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, has expanded his jiu jitsu and wrestling foundations while looking to deliver a punch like the one that led Bisping toward retirement.
“I’m going to be just as good as [Whittaker] in striking and on the ground,” Gastelum said. “I’ve seen interviews he’s done and he feels the same way about it, that I’m not going to make it through the night … which is the beauty of the sport.”
Hands shake up local cards
New International Boxing Federation lightweight champion Richard Commey won’t be able to keep his scheduled April 12 unification fight against two-belt lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko at Staples Center, Commey promoter Lou DiBella told the Fight Corner Friday.
Commey hurt a knuckle in his second-round knockout victory Saturday night in Frisco, Texas, and he was told Friday that the injury will require either arthroscopic surgery or rest that could sideline him with no activity for up to 10 weeks.
Top Rank executive Carl Moretti said he’ll begin the search for a Commey replacement immediately. England’s Anthony Crolla is positioned by the World Boxing Assn. to be Lomachenko’s opponent, Crolla promoter Eddie Hearn tweeted Friday.
That card that will include India’s super-middleweight Vijender Singh (10-0, seven KOs), a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist who has starred in films and reality shows in his home country and has more than 3.7 million Twitter followers.
Moretti was already reeling from what might’ve been a double-title card March 23 at the Forum that has now been transformed into a less-than-overwhelming night headlined by 37-year-old Bulgarian heavyweight Kubrat Pulev.
Pulev (26-1, 13 KOs) was knocked out by Wladimir Klitschko in the fifth round of his only title shot. His opponent is not settled yet, Moretti said.
The card was supposed to be headlined by a super-featherweight title rematch between World Boxing Council champion Miguel Berchelt and former champion Francisco Vargas, but Berchelt withdrew with a hurt hand and Moretti is seeking to re-book the Forum for that bout on May 11.
Featherweight champion Oscar Valdez, after successfully defending his belt Saturday in Frisco, Texas, was additionally being eyed for a title defense that night, but Valdez also reported hand soreness following his knockout of Carmine Tommasone, and is now likely to return in June, Moretti said.
Keep an eye on …
Early on the Saturday undercard of Gervonta Davis’ super-featherweight title defense, his good friend from Baltimore, Lorenzo “Truck” Simpson will make his second pro fight, and many around the youngster expect him to rise toward title contention expeditiously.
Until next time