Vitor Belfort and Kelvin Gastelum test their questionable might this March 11, 2017 at the Centro de Formacao Olimpica do Nordestein Fortaleza, Brazil.
One sentence summary
David: Headcase meets basket case in the first MMA bout to be directed by Frank Henelotter.
Phil: A Brazilian legend goes back to his hometown to star in what will probably be a brutal, depressing snuff film.
Record: Vitor Belfort 25-13 Kelvin Gastelum 13-2
Odds: Vitor Belfort +325 Kelvin Gastelum -400
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
David: Vitor, Vitor, Vitor. We had been looking all over for you, and suddenly we find you in the wrong places; a wheezing middleweight of old age stereotypes in a young man’s field of dreams. Or is it the other way around? I don’t know when Belfort jumped the shark. Did it start when he found himself going all Tarantino on his wife’s feet? No, that can’t be it. Nothing wrong with a little dorsalis pedis coitus. Was it when Anderson front kicked the dilophosaurus out of him? Who knows. What we do know is that Belfort has become a victim of senescence. And this projects to be his third loss in a row. Assuming Gastelum doesn’t Khabib himself on the weightscales.
Phil: As with Anderson, Vitor represents a resource which the UFC have absolutely no issue completely exhausting. He’s always been a bit of a nomad, always off doing his own thing and trying to get the biggest matchups and the best paydays. Remember the times he’d come to press conferences and interviews layered with sponsors, like a NASCAR driver? His weird egocentric hustle has meant that it’s relatively easy for the UFC to slot him into brutal beatdowns in recent years. I haven’t enjoyed it.
David: Gastelum is a fixed Efrain Escudero. A TUF winner who didn’t start out as the favorite, but nonetheless surpassed his frat peers and darted headfirst into division legitimacy. Like Escudero, he’d experienced some setbacks. And like Escudero, it’s been by his own design. Where Efrain simply pissed off Dana for mercurial reasons, and wasn’t asked back, Gastelum has been the architect of his own gastrointestinal failures. But Dana has stuck by his man anyway. Plus he’s a pretty damn good fighter. But he’s uneven, which makes the premiere conflict of headcase pugilism.
Phil: People are willing to give Gastelum a second, and third, and fourth chance, because he is so obviously such a very special talent. Josh Samman (RIP) spoke in his book about quite how unassuming Kelvin was in the house; the sweetheart kid who would eat crappy food all the time, and didn’t hit the gym much. Then he RNCd his way through the house, and bullied the incredibly hyped Uriah Hall in the finals. His struggles since have been a weird mixture.of the standard troubles of any youngster figuring out the intricacies of a technical game, and the aforementioned battles with the scale and his own appetite.
What’s at stake?
David: It’s hard to say, despite this being half ‘shit or get off the contender pot Kelvin’ and half ‘go get some fans with your higher profile bouts’. It’s political matchmaking with a question mark. Vitor sells in Brazil so the UFC always has room for him. Gastelum doesn’t sell in Mexico, but Mexicans will root for him over Mike Perry or whatever adopted Irish fighter of the week Dana has on tap.
Phil: The question is where Kelvin goes from here with a win- does he try to go back to welterweight, as he said he would, or does he use Vitor as he’s normally used these days- as a springboard to upper-level middleweight matchups. He’s not a particularly big welterweight, but I’m not sure that the management will trust him to make 170 any more. We have no right to tell Vitor to retire, but I hope he does, win or lose. I have no appetite for seeing him get slaughtered any more.
Where do they want it?
David: Vitor has become something of an Anthony Pettis archetype, just with less cardio, durability, fortitude, and Wheaties. There’s a massive difference, of course. Where Pettis is surgical and patient, Belfort is punctuated and aggressive. That entails plenty of negatives, but also some positives. For one, his skills amplify his urgency. When moving forward, he’s still a killing machine of rapid fire exclamation. But that urgency was deteriorated in recent bouts. The violence is still there. The fury’s intact. But any heart or desire to execute that fury before being pressured or attacked first has largely left him. Before his fast twitch muscle fibers could at least be relied on as defense mechanisms. Now he doesn’t have that.
Phil: We have a decent idea of how Vitor approaches fights (left straight or left head kick). He doesn’t throw a whole lot else these days, although to his credit he added a third layer to that mixup by adding in a left body kick against Mousasi. He likes to counter, but his somewhat limited game means that his responses are based more on triggers- if he’s forced backwards, he can only counter with the left hand. Once the opponent stands in front of him is when he tries to catch them off-guard with the head kick.
Other than this, it looks like his absurd finishing dynamism has largely left him. I’m sure he’s still dangerous, but the spots in which he can land his offense are shrinking, as is the time before he obviously gives up in the fight.
David: What modestly ticks me off about Gastelum is that he has an unbelievable jab. Not only is it thrown with speed, but it lands with the thud of an overhand punch. In terms of raw mechanics, it’s up there. Kelvin’s issue is that he still strikes like a prospect’s teething years. He has a hard time following a boxing script, so instead of establishing rhythm and pace, he’s caught in a binary fight world of ‘to pressure or not to pressure’. His durability, strength, and nominal technique should theoretically make him elite, but instead he’s half a contender.
Honestly, I think part of Gastelum’s issue is his stature. We’re not talking biological determinism here, but let’s face it. The only reason Helen Glover made it in rowing is because of her height, her low brachial index which grants unique leverage, and a talent agency with the science to profile her for efficiency. Gastelum is stuck in a biological chicken or egg dilemma in that his wide, but low frame make it difficult for him to manage distance. Thus he can’t box with typical concepts of pace and structure. That’s why he’s at his best when grappling.
Phil: Gastelum started in the TUF house as a grappler, but he’s become an increasingly dangerous striker. As mentioned by James Stapleton in his excellent fanpost, part of his issues in the past have been the conflation of good-looking footwork with good footwork- bouncing on his toes and losing his ability to adjust, rather than making small, granular movements, and failing to keep his stance.
Gastelum’s primary weapon is a blazing fast one-two. This is a surprisingly rare combination in the UFC, still less so from the southpaw stance, and you can often catch a brief flare of shock from the opponent when he lands it. Add in a short right hook which Kelvin uses to pivot away and set up attacks from new angles, and you have a relatively uncommon southpaw striker. He can land the Cordeiro-special left cross and body kick, but he actually operates from a slightly closer range and a slightly higher pace than most of Mestre’s students. Which makes sense when you consider his stature.
Insight from Past Fights
David: I’ll throw Vitor a bone here and refer to the Gastelum vs. Story fight. Kelvin can get lost in firefights. Story knocked his block clean off, but Kelvin’s X-23 regeneration powers bounced him right back up. Vitor is obviously a much better finisher, even at his current rate.
Phil: Vitor used to land offense, then fade away. That hasn’t been happening so much lately. Against Jacare he simply got slaughtered, and against Mousasi he looked like he was just trying to survive more than anything else. More than that, he got immediately trapped against the fence both times. This is where Kelvin does some of his best work.
David: First off. Your Kelvin Gastelum story should have come with a trigger warning. That’s so unbelievably disrespectful to the samurai code MMA fighters tirelessly live by. Second, as wonderful as it was, I think it’s a little unfair to expose Kelvin’s diet from the metadata you’ve assembled over the years working British Security Service. To that end, I don’t think it’s the pizza that’ll trouble him on the scale, so much as the food he hides in the raindrops. Like peanut butter and jelly pancake tacos and waffle iron enchiladas.
Phil: I think they’ve made weight by now. Kelvin just has to resist loading up TOO much on all the the feijoada, moqueca and sundry delicious barbeque which is no doubt on offer in Fortaleza before the fight.
David: I’m not as comfortable with this one because I feel we understate how violent Belfort can still be, but certainly comfortable enough to pick Gastelum with few caveats (beyond the attractive odds). Gastelum is one rawhide sonofabitch, and I doubt even the strikes of an actual dinosaur could TKO him. Vitor, despite claims on the contrary, is not that kind of animal. Especially without his special body of Christ sauce. Kelvin Gastelum by RNC, round 2.
Phil: This seems like it’d be an awful matchup for Vitor, even in his prime. Gastelum can be hittable, but he’s also extraordinarily tough. The range and pace he operates at, combined with his ability to crush people against the fence and a striking style which seems at least partially designed to crush Vitor’s patented counter left straight make this a pretty obvious pick. Kelvin Gastelum by TKO, round 1.
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