Winning The Ultimate Fighter was a huge feather in Kelvin Gastelum's cap, but the real journey will begin on Wednesday night at UFC Fight Night 27.
The 21-year-old Team Reign fighter fought his way into the spotlight by winning the 17th season of the reality program, but the tournament was simply a primer to the real challenges ahead. Gastelum will jump headlong into the UFC fold when he faces Strikeforce crossover Brian Melancon in Indianapolis, and he will do so at a brand new weight of 170 pounds.
While his win over the highly touted Uriah Hall at the TUF finale in April was technically Gastelum's official UFC debut, his bout against Melancon will be his first step into the deep ranks of the ultra-competitive welterweight division.
To ensure he was prepared for the challenges ahead, Gastelum switched his training camp to work with Mark Munoz and Co. in Orange County and enlisted the services of nutritional guru Mike Dolce to assist with his cut down to a lower weight class.
Gastelum feels every aspect of the transition has been a smooth process and he's excited to begin the next chapter of his career at UFC Fight Night 27.
"I feel a little bit of pressure," Gastelum told Bleacher Report. "Coming off the show and winning the show, people have expectations for me to do good, but it doesn't make a difference to me. I put that same pressure every single fight. I expect nothing but to win. I came into my last fight as the underdog, but this time I am the favorite and people are expecting me to win. There is pressure, but it is a good pressure. It keeps me focused and on track.
"My goal is to one day for fight for a title, but I'm going to take it one fight at a time. I'm going to be a company man and do what the UFC asks me to do. I'm young and I still have a long future ahead of me. [TUF] was a milestone I wanted to accomplish—and it was good—but it was just one accomplishment in my career and I want to do this for a long time.
"Brian beat a really tough guy in his last fight," he added about his upcoming tilt. "He beat Seth [Baczynski] and he's a tough guy. I've trained with Seth before and he made him look really bad in their fight. He is on a three-fight win streak and his fighting style is similar to mine. He likes to brawl and it's going to be a good fight."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.