Post-Fight Thoughts: Kelvin Gastelum -vs- Israel Adesanya
This fight played out almost entirely counter to my expectations. I didn't think it would go to a decision, nor did I think Kelvin Gastelum had enough nuance to his striking to pose much of a threat on the feet. The first round was shocking, as Israel Adesanya took some hard shots and seemed to have a lot of trouble dealing with Gastelum's speed. The fight progressed and Adesanya was able to analyse what his opponent was throwing at him and accounting for it. It was a tense, brutal fight that showcased both fighters' abilities and toughness.
I was really surprised that Kelvin opted to spend most of his time striking, and what takedowns he did attempt were expertly defended by Adesanya. Kelvin really only shot for takedowns in the later half of the fight, as he began to fade from a combination of his high-energy movement and accumulated damage. The one time the fight actually did go to the ground, Adesanya was on the bottom but throwing up a a pair of legit triangle attempts, and looked very comfortable fighting off of his back. As much as Gastelum's boxing proved more effective than expected, so did Adesanya's ground game — each looked very comfortable in the other's presumed area of expertise.
After the shock of Gastelum's one-sided opening round wore off, you could feel his momentum slowly dissipating. Adesanya was composed throughout the fight, and was only briefly in danger when he ate a head kick in the third round. Going into the final round, I had it tied at 2 rounds each. The way Israel Adesanya rose to the occasion and dominated Kelvin Gastelum for the final 5 minutes of the fight is exactly the sort of thing that defines a champion. Gastelum absorbed a savage beating in the final minute of the fight, and the fight really should have been stopped; I guess the referee was doing Kelvin a "favour" by giving him every chance to make it to the final bell.
Israel Adesanya has fought 7 times in 14 months, each time living up to or exceeding the expectations placed upon him. Instead of buzzsawing his way through Kelvin Gastelum, he had to dig deep and work very hard to overcome this challenge. Adesanya demonstrated toughness, the ability to adapt in the face of adversity and his performance in the fifth round showcased a fighter willing to go for the finish right up to the last minute. Adesanya also looked very comfortable on the ground, defending from bottom position. It's impossible to say that the hype hasn't been justified — Israel Adesanya is clearly the genuine article.
To Kelvin Gastelum's credit, while he clearly lost the fight he still turned in an amazing performance. I didn't dismiss his chances entirely, but I also didn't think they were very good either; Kelvin vastly overshot my expectations and gave the fight a sense of drama and tension. He also absorbed a lot of damage, especially in the final round — showing off his granite chin more than he really should have been allowed to, in my opinion. His gameplan was very good, even though it took the inadvisable route of trying to win a kickboxing match in 4-ounce gloves with Israel Adesanya, and only broke down as a result of fatigue and a few slips. Gastelum's defence involved a fair bit of head movement and precise positioning that left little-to-no margin for error and his style looked very energy intensive.
As for what happens next, who really knows; right now there's no official word on when Robert Whittaker will be able to defend the "real" middleweight championship. I wouldn't be all that surprised if they ran this fight back if Whittaker is going to be out for an extended period of time, or incurs some other injury. Given that Adesanya has averaged a fight every 2 months, he's got to be due for an extended break. Likewise, Gastelum should take a long vacation after enduring such an brutal fight. Both fighters raised their stock considerably, and since rankings don't matter there's no telling what will happen with either 185-pound title.
Published: Arpil 14th, 2019.