The Ultimate Fighter winner turned perennial threat in multiple divisions has been a force inside the Octagon, but seesaw battles and the up and down that come with life on the UFC rollercoaster have prevented him from leveling out for one huge run. That's until now, and a big fight with a certified legend of the sport has given him the opportunity to break through to a higher level of recognition.
The 25-year-old smashing machine will face a veteran damn near 20 years his elder in feared knockout artist Vitor Belfort this Saturday night at UFC 106 in Fortaleza, Brazil. What "The Phenom" brings to the table each and every time he steps into the Octagon is well documented, and Gastelum is confident he's not only ready to face the challenge head on but also best the former two-divisional title challenger on his native soil.
Furthermore, Gastelum also appreciates the fortitude required to notch a career as storied as the one Belfort owns.
"I've seen him in action," Gastelum told FloCombat. "He's been in this game for more than 20 years and has been up and down. He's been up again and down again, and I respect that. That is something to keep in mind, because nobody goes through 20 years without having some sort of intelligence in this game and having some sort of balls too.
"He's always dangerous."
While Gastelum has long been a student and fan of the game he now holds a career in, he's quick to admit Belfort wasn't always his "cup of tea" as a fighter. Nevertheless, the Kings MMA standout believes the matchup holds many similarities from a stylistic point of view and is just as ready for a high-octane collision as he is a chess match at UFC Fight Night 106.
"We both have really similar qualities accept his game is jiu-jitsu and mine is wrestling," Gastelum said. "We are very similar stylistically, but his standup is like none other. If you look at the history of the middleweights and who has the most first-round finishes, it's Vitor Belfort. He's the number one guy. He kills more often than he doesn't. Robin Black said that."
Although Gastelum is coming off a high-profile drubbing of Tim Kennedy at UFC 206 and will be looking to add another huge victory in the middleweight ranks by defeating Vitor Belfort, he's still uncertain of which division will be his permanent home. Gastelum's triumphs and troubles are well known as a welterweight, but he isn't quite ready to give up hopes of finding a run in the 170-pound weight class just yet.
That said, there's still some heavy lifting to be done in the middleweight fold, and the only thing Gastelum knows for certain is a charge at a divisional title is definitely in his future. Where that will take place, even he isn't quite sure.
"I'm not ready to put the welterweight division out of my mind quite yet," Gastelum said with a smile in a later interview. "I'm a young guy in this sport, and I'm learning as I go. Unfortunately those lessons played out in the public eye, and it takes a strong character to overcome and continue to press forward. It just so happens pressing forward is what I do better than most.
"I'm going to get this win and take a look at a few things," he added. "There's a lot going on in this game right now, and it's an interesting time for sure. I'm going to have a lot of options I believe, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make the best of them."
Watch full interview below: