In one of the most anticipated matchups of the card, New Zealand´s own Adesanya meets mexican american Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight strap, which means a title shot later in the year against champion Robert Whittaker. Adesanya enters this contest after outpointing a way past his prime Anderson Silva, while Gastelum was just seeing outpointing Jacare Souza in a somewhat controversial decision.
Adesanya is primarily a striker, and a fantastic one. With an extensive kickboxing background, the Nigerian born fighter is a delight to watch on the feet. One could argue he is the best striker in the hole UFC in terms of pure talent, technique and finesse. He may not be a huge puncher but his lightning speed and precision makes him a threat. He is also a high level counterpuncher, and boasts flashy techniques here and there when the opportunity presents itself. He will not be seen shooting for takedowns, but offers a very serviceable takedown defense which has vastly improved over the last year, and is an excellent fighter in the clinch from where he likes to punish with elbows and well timed knees, or utilise trips to take opponents to the matt.
Kelvin Gastelum is one of the better products to ever come out of the Ultimate Fighter show. He was the winner of his edition upsetting highly touted Uriah Hall in the final. He originally campaigned at welterweight, but after some weight struggles he was forced to move up to middleweight, where he has experienced some major success. However, it could be argued his stoppage wins at middleweight have come against badly faded fighters like Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort, and the two times he faced two still top players in Chris Weidman and Jacare Souza he ended up getting submitted and winning a split decision. He is a well rounded fighter. His wrestling and grappling are quality even though not elite, and his striking is very serviceable. He is mostly a boxer whose entire game is based around his straight left and the old one two to set it up. He also shines in exchanges in the pocket. He does not have the best cardio though, and has still to go five rounds against bigger men at middleweight.
On paper, this is a very favorable matchup for Adesanya. He will enjoy a big reach and height advantadge, while being the better striker, faster and more athletic fighter, and with a big advantadge in footwork. Some people may argue Gastelum will try to get inside and rough up Adesanya in the clinch or take him down. I honestly doubt he is going to put Adesanya down, much less repeatedly. Even if he ends up being able to take Israel down a couple of times I do not see him having any major success with it. In my opinion, Gastelum´s best chance is a hail mary knockout punch, preferably early. He will have to get inside Adesanya´s punches and force him to exchange in order to find his chin with a big left after which he can end the fight. The chances of this happening are very slim though.
I think Adesanya is gonna win this fight and make it look easy. I expect him to put a masterclass on Kelvin and thoroughly outclass him on the feet, his jab controlling the action at all times. Might get scary a few times early but I feel it will get more dominant as the fight goes on. Kelvin is gonna get touched consistently here, he tends to fade late and he is heavy on his lead leg which Adesanya will punish with his inside leg kick. He may even change stances here to be able to punish it more effectively at times. Adesanya´s striking combined with his sense of distance and footwork will take him to a wide decision victory or a late stoppage victory. The pick here is Adesanya to win by decision, with the possibility of a late stoppage due to accumulation of punishment, to set up a huge tittle fight with Robert Whittaker in Australia later in the year.