Chris Weidman is suddenly very far from the throne he occupied less than two years ago. Riding a three-fight losing streak, it is do or die time for the former champion, and welterweight exile Kelvin Gastelum is not likely to be an easy opponent, especially in a five-round fight. In addition to that meaningful main event, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has a whole slew of fascinating matchups planned for UFC on Fox 25 this Saturday at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. In the co-main event, Darren Elkins will look to convert his incredible comeback win over Mirsad Bektic into some serious upward momentum, with the dynamic Dennis Bermudez standing in his way. One of the most interesting matchups opens the main card, as exciting strikers Jimmie Rivera and Thomas Almeida vie for a shot at the bantamweight belt.
The main card is solid if unspectacular, but the five-fight UFC Fight Pass prelim roster is much appreciated. Matchups like Kyle Bochniak-Jeremy Kennedy, Shane Burgos-Godofredo Castro and Chris Wade-Frankie Perez go a long way toward justifying the monthly subscription.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC on Fox 25 matchup, with analysis and picks:
MiddleweightsChris Weidman (13-3) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (13-2)
THE MATCHUP: It has been a long, hard fall for Weidman. From the thrill of his historic victory over Anderson Silva to a brief moment in the sun as defending middleweight champion, he now desperately clings to his ranking on the back of a miserable three-fight losing streak. Three knockouts in a row have many concerned that Weidman is ignoring a clear sign to take a break, but the former champion continues to take on elite foe after elite foe. Despite a few notable weaknesses, Weidman’s striking is not to be underestimated. When he is pressuring, he throws hard punches with sharp timing. Though the results have not been ideal, Weidman has also shown a bit more footwork and evasiveness in recent fights. Nonetheless, Weidman is susceptible to aggressive strikers, and his output wanes as the fight wears on.
In the first round, however, Weidman’s wrestling and submission game, not his striking, will be the first obstacles Gastelum will need to address. Weidman has scored some meaningful takedowns in recent bouts, even one against decorated wrestler Yoel Romero, and he is well-known as a prodigal student of submission grappling. His high-pressure, head-mashing ground game enables him to pin opponents in compromising positions, where heavy hands and clever positioning are helpful. In pursuing the takedown more aggressively, however, Weidman often takes a sizeable chunk out of his own gas tank. He will need to control the pace of the fight and conserve his energy to beat Gastelum in a five-round affair.
On the feet, Gastelum is clearly superior. He is agile and controls distance well, avoiding most big strikes despite his unorthodox style of defense. The awkward positions he sometimes jumps into do leave him vulnerable to well-timed counters, but his chin is reliable -- perhaps even more so now that he is no longer dehydrating himself to make 170 pounds. His hands are exceptionally quick, but his punches connect with weight and rigidity. Gastelum is the kind of puncher who can catch a ducking opponent on the neck and put him down. His athleticism and cleverness more than make up for any disadvantages caused by his compact frame.
Two of Gastelum’s advantages should work strongly in concert with the style matchup. As a southpaw, he will have an open path to Weidman’s body with his left leg; Gastelum just so happens to have an excellent left body kick, not to mention a good complement of body punches. Weidman has always had issues going into the championship rounds, but these days, his chest starts heaving midway through the fight. If Gastelum continually slashes Weidman’s ribs with that left kick, this compelling matchup could quickly become a predictable beatdown. Even Tim Kennedy, who has put on several competitive, five-round performances, faded after Gastelum made him work on the ground and then proceeded to batter his body standing up.
THE ODDS: Gastelum (-191), Weidman (+151)
THE PICK: Like Kennedy did last winter, Weidman should be able to use his size and grappling skills to control Gastelum early and maybe even put him in some trouble on the ground. Weidman has gassed badly in his last three fights, however, and against Gegard Mousasi, Weidman totally collapsed after his stamina had run dry. Even when he was suffering weight problems, Gastelum rarely had issues with stamina. At middleweight, he seems like a tireless machine with a solid chin, lightning quick hands and big power. The pick is Gastelum by third-round TKO.
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