Kelvin Gastelum has become a legitimate threat to the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight throne.
“The Ultimate Fighter 17” winner improved to 3-1 with one no-contest since returning to 185 pounds, as he walked away with a split decision over former Strikeforce champion Ronaldo Souza in the UFC 224 co-headliner on May 12 in Rio de Janeiro. Gastelum, 26, overcame an inauspicious start -- Souza mounted him twice and threatened with an armbar inside the first five minutes -- to take charge with superior standup skills, flooring the decorated grappler in the second round before maintaining his gains in the third. Having hurdled “Jacare,” Gastelum has put himself in position to challenge for the UFC middleweight title later this year. For now, the Arizonan moves to No. 4 in the latest Sherdog divisional rankings at 185 pounds and awaits the winner of the forthcoming rematch between undisputed champion Robert Whittaker and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero.
Gastelum was not the only star to shine at UFC 224. Women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes continued to tighten her stranglehold on the 135-pound weight class, as she stopped a battered and bloodied Raquel Pennington via fifth-round technical knockout to retain her title in the main event. Per FightMetric, Nunes nearly doubled Pennington in terms of significant strikes, 124-64, answered a takedown with three of her own and outperformed “The Ultimate Fighter 18” semifinalist in the following categories: head strikes (72-49), body strikes (31-10), leg strikes (21-5), strikes from distance (96-56), clinch strikes (15-7) and ground strikes (13-1). The outcome was never in doubt.
Meanwhile, Kamaru Usman passed another rung on the welterweight ladder with his one-sided unanimous decision over the fading Demian Maia at UFC Fight Night 129 on May 19 in Santiago, Chile. Usman denied all 15 of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt’s takedown attempts and picked his spots in the standup exchanges. “The Nigerian Nightmare” has rattled off 12 consecutive victories, eight of them in the UFC, and could soon find himself in another tax bracket, competitively speaking.
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