This is number forty in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature The Ultimate Fighter Season 17 Champion, Kelvin Gastelum. Going into the finale, the consensus was that the young wrestler, Gastelum, was a significant underdog against the favorite, dangerous striker, Uriah Hall. But Gastelum shocked the world and won a split decision. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Kelvin Gastelum: My first experience with MMA came when I was a sophomore in high school. I got invited to the gym that I still go to now, Yuma United MMA, and they told me, “Okay, hold this guy down.” That was it! So I was like, “Okay, no problem.” Then this guy postures up and hits me with a huge overhand from the top.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, down in Mexico in 2010, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
KG: I went into my first MMA fight the same way you saw me go into my first UFC fight. I went in there with confidence and found a way to win.
JB: Before competing on season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter, you won all of your fights via stoppages. What do you think made you so successful and how did you evolve as a fighter over your first couple years of fighting professionally?
KG: Every fight, I find a way to win and impose my will. There’s always room for improvement, and I try to learn every day.
JB: How did the reality of what occurred during TUF match with the expectations you had going into the experience? And how did the results of what was televised compare with what you remember actually happening during your time there?
KG: The experience I had in the house was amazing. There are a lot of things people didn’t see. They focused a lot on the fighters, the fighting, and the fighters’ stories, which made this season the best in TUF history. So I have no problem with what they showed.
JB: A couple weeks later, what stands out the most about your UFC debut and the experience of fighting for the promotion at the TUF 17 finale?
KG: Getting my hand raised in the UFC was something I’d only dreamed of, and to have had it happen is the greatest feeling in the world.
JB: Overnight, you went from a heavy underdog, to a feel-good underdog story and champion! What has changed for you since winning that fight with Uriah Hall?
KG: Besides being recognized more, and having a little bit of change in my pocket, nothing has changed. I’m still me.
JB: You are undefeated, 6-0, and you won all of your exhibition bouts on TUF as well. Nevertheless, you've stated that you will be dropping down to fight at 170lbs. How do you plan on accomplishing the weight cut and when and where would you like to fight next if it were completely up to you?
KG: The weight cut shouldn’t be a problem. I just got to diet and eat well. I’d like to make the fight close to home. So Vegas would be preferable.
JB: Who are the other fighters that you'd most like to fight and who are some of the ones that you admire or respect the most?
KG: I’ll fight anybody, and I respect every fighter.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and fighting, and who are the individuals who have supported you most in life?
KG: I enjoy spending time with my family and my girlfriend and going to the movies. My family, especially my mother and sister, and my girlfriend, teammates, and coaches have been my biggest supporters and if it wasn’t for all of them believing in me, I probably wouldn’t have the courage or belief in myself that I do now.
JB: Last question, Kelvin, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
KG: I believe I was born to fight. I believe I am fulfilling my destiny and have found my purpose. It’s my dream to fight and to one day be world champion.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow @KelvinGastelum and @Jackjohnbrown on Twitter.
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Thank you to @KirikJenness for @theUG.