Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight killers Ronaldo Souza and Kelvin Gastelum will collide this Saturday (May 12, 2018) at UFC 224 inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
An upset loss to current 185-pound kingpin, Robert Whittaker, last year derailed Souza’s title run and sent him into surgery and rehab for some nagging injuries. Some questioned whether the 38-year-old was still a contender upon his return back in January, but Souza responded with one of his career best performances to score a first round knockout win. Gastelum’s issues with his dieting evicted him to Middleweight for the second time near the end of 2016, but this time around he seemed prepared. A pair of knockout victories brought him into contention, where his size disadvantage was made apparent in a loss to Chris Weidman. On the bright side, Gastelum bounced back into the win column quickly, and he’ll get a second chance to overcome a larger grappler in this match.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Record: 24-5 (1)
Key Wins: Derek Brunson (UFC on FOX 27), Gegard Mousasi (UFC Fight Night 50), Yushin Okami (UFC Fight Night 28), Francis Carmont (UFC Fight Night 36), Tim Boetsch (UFC 208)
Key Losses: Robert Whittaker (UFC on FOX 24), Yoel Romero (UFC 194), Luke Rockhold (Strikeforce: Barnett vs Kharitonov)
Keys to Victory: There is no element of the fabled “gentle art” to Souza’s submission approach. The Brazilian is a powerful athlete with masterful technique who jumps on limbs given the slightest opportunity, proving once and for all last time out that his kickboxing is not to be underestimated.
Can Souza find success on the feet opposite Gastelum? After his last performance, it’s probably a more even battle than people would expect. At the same time, Gastelum does have a speed advantage, and “Jacare” does not want to wind up on the wrong side of that one-two combination. With that in mind, Souza wants to get his hands on Gastelum early. His foe is pretty good at avoiding shots with footwork — thus stopping his foe from chain wrestling — but Souza’s ability to hang onto a shot is equally strong. If he can secure a grip on the leg or body lock, Souza can drive Gastelum into the fence and get to work.
The more Souza wrestles the former Welterweight into the fence, the less dangerous this fight becomes. As Gastelum tires, the takedown will come easier, and there are very few men alive that can survive Souza’s top game for long.
Record: 14-3 (1)
Key Wins: Michael Bisping (UFC on FOX 27), Johny Hendricks (UFC 200), Tim Kennedy (UFC 206), Rick Story (UFC 171), Uriah Hall (TUF 17 Finale)
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC on FOX 25), Tyron Woodley (UFC 183), Neil Magny (UFC Fight Night 78)
Keys to Victory: Kelvin Gastelum murders people with the jab and the cross. A solid wrestler with great natural fighting instincts, Gastelum hides that powerful one-two combination behind excellent feints and movement. In addition, he does a great job of staying in the pocket to return fire, which is how he stopped Bisping in his last outing.
In this bout, movement will be key for Gastelum. His speed and ability to suddenly close the distance are without a doubt his greatest advantages, but both are nullified if Souza stuffs him into the fence. Gastelum has to be circling and showing the left constantly, otherwise he’ll find himself in a difficult position.
In addition, I would like to see Gastelum kick high more often. The high kick will be open since the two are in opposite stances, and it’s a difficult strike to convert into a takedown. If Gastelum can get Souza to plant his feet and raise his hands to block the high kick with any consistency, he can instead step into a one-two combination and surprise the Brazilian.
Bottom Line: It’s very likely a title eliminator.
Following Whittaker and Romero’s rematch next month, there are two possible contenders for the victor: the winner of this match, and Chris Weidman. Weidman does have a win over Gastelum, but he’s nearing Cain Velasquez levels of injury layoffs. In all likelihood, the winner of this bout will find himself in a title bout by fall. The consequences are pretty harsh for the defeated man, although for different reasons. In Souza’s case, he is an older veteran who has been striving for a title shot for a very long time now, so each loss makes it more likely that his chance at gold will never materialize. For Gastelum, a second loss in two tries opposite truly elite competition is a bad sign that Welterweight really is the better division for him.
At UFC 224, Ronaldo Souza and Kelvin Gastelum will duel in the co-main event. Which man will potentially earn a title shot?