"It's been a little bit of rollercoaster," Gastelum admitted to The Underground. "First the fight was off is what I thought, and then we settled on rescheduling for May 7 in Phoenix, and so that's what I thought was going to happen, and I was like, 'All right, well, at least it's a plus. I'm in Arizona for the first time in my UFC career. I'm fighting in Arizona, so that's a plus.' But then I was just kind of sitting back after a training session and I was like, 'Man, I put in so much effort, so much time. I moved out here to Arizona for this, and like, I don't want to let it go to waste,' you know?"
Gastelum was preparing to face Nassourdine Imavov at UFC 273 before visa issues ruled his opponent out of the contest. It was frustrating for Gastelum, who recently relocated to Arizona to train with Henry Cejudo and the rapidly growing Fight Ready MMA team in Scottsdale.
While fighting near his new home was certainly appealing, it would also mean waiting more than a month to do so, and Gastelum said he felt in such peak form that he didn't want to delay his opportunity to compete.
"This was an amazing training camp," Gastelum said. "Put in a lot of effort, a lot of thought – not just me, but a group of people behind me. We all collectively put in a lot of effort and work into this camp, so I wasn't going to let it go to waste."
Behind the scenes, UFC officials scrambled to keep Gastelum (17-8 MMA, 11-8 UFC) on the card and ultimately pulled South Africa's Dricus Du Plessis (16-2 MMA, 2-0 UFC) from another matchup on the card in favor of the new pairing, and the two will now meet at next week's event, which streams live on ESPN+ pay-per-view from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.
A relatively new name in the UFC, Du Plessis was a bit of a mystery to Gastelum when he accepted the fight, but he says he's researched him in the time since and is impressed with what he sees.
"I had to do my homework on him," Gastelum said. "The last few days, I've been studying him, watching his fights, me and my team, so I wasn't real familiar with him, but I am now. He's a tough guy. You know, he's not in the rankings, hasn't been in the UFC very long, but I've seen what he's been doing. He has a lot of pop in his punches, has a lot of stoppages. He's one of those guys, he'll take one to give one, so you know, this guy is younger. He's hungry, wants to take my spot, and I'm in a bit of a crossroads myself, right? But that's not what I'm focused on. I'm just focused on getting my W."
Gastelum's crossroads include a recent 1-5 stretch, albeit against the absolute best the division has to offer. Still, nine years into his UFC run, Gastelum knows he needs positive results, which prompted his move to Fight Ready MMA. He believes it's a decision that is paying dividends behind the scenes, and he's ready to display it for the world at UFC 273.
"It feels like a restart in my career, honestly," Gastelum said. "I'm making a lot of changes. I moved out here to Arizona. We're doing things differently out here. As you can see, 'Triple C' is bringing in all these people wanting to work with him, and it's for a reason. There's a system that they've created and we're following in it, and it's pretty awesome results what we've had during this camp, and I'm excited.
"It feels like a restart in my career, feels like a restart for me. I feel like I'm in a great place, mentally, physically. It just feels like a whole new start for me."
To see the full interview with Gastelum, check out the video above.