The UFC middleweight title picture may be muddied by two belts at the moment, but Kelvin Gastelum isn’t afraid to let it be known which titleholder he’s putting in his sights: UFC interim champion Robert Whittaker.
“I want to fight the No. 1 guy, and he’s definitely the No. 1 ranked guy,” Gastelum said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I don’t care about the interim belt, I want to fight the No. 1 ranked guy and that’s Robert Whittaker. I think I deserve a No. 1 ranked guy.”
Gastelum, 26, scored the best win of his career over the weekend, knocking out former UFC champion Michael Bisping in less than three minutes with a vicious finishing sequence at UFC Shanghai. The performance instantly thrust Gastelum into the 185-pound title picture, as Bisping was the No. 2 ranked contender on the UFC’s official media-generated middleweight rankings.
But that being said, the situation was not without its critics.
Bisping’s stumble at UFC Shanghai took place just three weeks after the Brit’s title loss to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 217, with “The Count” stepping in to serve as a late-replacement for Anderson Silva after USADA pulled Silva from the fight due to a potential anti-doping violation. UFC color commentator Joe Rogan was among many within the MMA community who questioned the decision to allow Bisping to fight on such a quick turnaround after UFC 217. Rogan openly wondered whether the same result would’ve happened if Bisping had more time to recover between fights.
But for Gastelum, that question is irrelevant. The Kings MMA product said he simply had a job to do at UFC Shanghai, and he completed the job as well as he could.
“It doesn’t really matter. What’s done is done, and everybody’s got their own opinion, so it is what it is, really,” Gastelum said.
“What would they be saying if he had won? I mean, they would’ve thought it was the greatest thing. They’d be talking about how great he was. As fighters, we want to get in there, but it’s tricky. I don’t know how healthy he was or how injured he was still from his last fight, so it’s tricky to really say (whether Bisping should’ve fought).”
Either way, Gastelum’s outing was a memorable one.
The highlight-reel, first-round salvo from Gastelum that put Bisping away was a thing of beauty. Gastelum slipped a one-two, then dropped Bisping to the canvas with a massive left hook. It was a similar shot to the one St-Pierre used to knock down Bisping at UFC 217, and Gastelum admitted that Bisping’s lingering injury to his right eye made the punch one that Gastelum focused on during camp.
“I think that (Bisping’s eye) had something to do with it,” he said. “I knew that was going to be a problem for him to see coming in. So, if you look at the fight, that’s the first thing I do within the first two seconds, is my left hook, then I throw a left hook to the body. So yeah, we knew it was going to be a problem.”
As it stands, Bisping’s plan moving forward appears to be his retirement fight taking place in his next outing, potentially at the UFC’s March 17 event in London.
Gastelum supported that idea, saying he believed it’d be best for the 38-year-old Bisping to call it quits in 2018. But Gastelum also heaped praise upon the veteran Brit for being one of the greats of his era.
“He’s always been one of the best guys,” Gastelum said.
“I mean, if you look at his career, he’s one of those guys that fought everybody. He’s beat a lot of legends himself, and some of the greatest fighters that we’ve ever seen inside of the Octagon, he’s fought them, he beat them. He won the middleweight championship. So he’s a guy who’s done it all inside the Octagon and has accomplished it all inside the Octagon, so young fighters like me admire that. We aspire to be that. So I respect Mike a lot.”
As for Gastelum, the TUF 17 winner is targeting a big name for his next fight, and he’d be more than willing to step in and challenge Whittaker on enemy soil on Feb. 11 at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia.
“I believe my manager has expressed this to Dana White, but I have not heard back from him,” Gastelum said. “They just told me that, he gave me the impression that Luke (Rockhold) and I were the frontrunners for this fight in Australia. But if you look at the numbers and stuff like that, if you really want to get down to it, I think I deserve it over Luke, and I’ll tell you why.
“He’s only fought, I don’t know, once in the last year-and-a-half? And he fought a guy that wasn’t in the UFC before and was ranked top-10. And I’ve fought guys, former champions, three former champs in the last eight or nine months, four guys in the last 11-12 months. So I’ve been pretty busy in the UFC winning these fights while everybody is either coming off losses or injured or already have fights.”
Still, after fighting four times over the past 12 months, Gastelum admitted that he also wouldn’t mind taking a bit of a holiday break if the opportunity at UFC 221 doesn’t land his way.
“I’m up for the challenge,” Gastelum said. “But if not, then that’s alright, let me enjoy my holidays.”