MiddleweightsKelvin Gastelum (15-5) vs. Jack Hermansson (20-5)
ODDS: Gastelum (-120), Hermansson (+100)
How good is Gastelum? He is seemingly entrenched as a fringe middleweight contender at worst, but his most recent loss to Darren Till raises some concerns about him all over again. Gastelum essentially fell into the UFC’s lap back in 2013. Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter” was supposed to be all about the rise of Uriah Hall, but Gastelum came out of nowhere to upset that apple cart in the season finale. To its credit, the UFC realized it had a then-21-year-old with all the potential in the world and booked him in a manner befitting a promotional favorite, keeping him in prominent spots and giving him winnable fights against big names. Gastelum consistently impressed inside the cage, but his difficulties always came on the scale. After two weight misses and a third fight cancellation, the UFC forced Gastelum’s hand and made him move up to middleweight. Gastelum shot up the ranks at 185 pounds, mostly on the backs of older names, but he ended 2019 on a sour note. His first fight of the year went well enough, as his five-round war for the interim title against Israel Adesanya was near the top of most “Fight of the Year” lists, but in his attempt at a rebound, Gastelum just kind of did nothing against Till, looking gun-shy and thrown off by Till’s size and power. In trying to project Gastelum going forward, a look back at his resume suddenly does not look so hot. Adesanya and Till are the only fighters in their prime who Gastelum has even faced at middleweight, and the last fighter he actually beat who was not firmly in a late-career decline may have been Nicholas Musoke in 2014. Gastelum is an obvious natural talent, but it seems amazing that seven years and 16 fights into his UFC career, there is still a question about exactly where he is at. Thankfully, this bout against Hermansson should finally answer a lot of questions.
Hermansson also had his 2019 end on a sour note, but overall, it was still a breakout year for “The Joker.” Hermansson quickly established himself as a cut above the circuit of anonymous European middleweights the UFC was employing at the time, but losses to Cezar Ferreira and Thiago Santos suggested that, while skilled, Hermansson had a ceiling that was firmly outside of the UFC’s rankings. His 2018 campaign saw Hermansson rebound with two wins but nothing that prepared anyone for a 49-second submission of David Branch that started Hermansson’s run the following year. Thanks to a Yoel Romero injury, Hermansson was allowed to step in just a month later for his breakout performance—a dissection of Ronaldo Souza that suddenly made the Swede a championship contender. Unfortunately, Hermansson’s last bout showed that he will probably always have issues with the very best athletes at middleweight. Jared Cannonier basically ran through Hermansson’s offense until he scored a knockout early in the second round. With that said, Hermansson has shown that he can make it to the title picture with the right matchmaking and a little bit of luck, so a win here would be huge in terms of getting him back on track.
This fight is basically a referendum on Gastelum and which of his 2019 performances is the one worth believing in. Gastelum has always coasted by on his natural gifts, but through the Adesanya fight, he would reliably take advantage of them, constantly applying a pared-down but relentless pressure striking game. On paper, that should be enough to win a tough fight against Hermansson, but that was also true of his bout against Till, and Gastelum was suddenly both conservative and ineffective. Something that looms large is Gastelum’s loss to Chris Weidman in 2017, which appeared poised to be another Gastelum win over a declining former champion. Instead, it saw Weidman use his wrestling to take over the bout and score a late submission. Hermansson has struggled with athletes before, but it may be more accurate to say that he has struggled with physically powerful fighters. Cannonier managed to shuck off Hermansson’s takedowns, but Gastelum’s athletic advantages manifest themselves more in terms of speed and durability than having the raw power to neutralize that part of Hermansson’s game. A Gastelum win is entirely possible and would be nice to see, but he is strictly in prove-it territory at this point. The pick is Hermansson via decision.
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