Kelvin Gastelum, the former The Ultimate Fighter champion who's been steadily improving and proving doubters wrong since he hit the FX airwaves in 2013, returned to action on Saturday night in San Antonio.
After a lazily contested first round—that came after he missed weight, no less—he got hot in the final 10 minutes and pulled away from Nico Musoke for a decision win. It was a strong finish for the youngster, but one that left him in limbo between the Top 10 and the rest of the division.
With both that and the fact that a prospect on the fringe of the elite is hard to create matches for in mind, here are three ideas for his next bout.
Silva is ranked below Gastelum, but if you subscribe to the idea that Gastelum is not ready to fight up the rankings just yet, the Brazilian might be perfect for the Arizona-based fighter to try out next. Silva is considerably more of a threat than Musoke was and was considered a hot prospect in his own right not that long ago.
He's appropriately seasoned and guaranteed to set off some fireworks. He will test Gastelum in a unique way compared to his prior UFC opponents.
Book it for Brazil for the added interest of seeing how Gastelum handles the heat of fighting a hometown boy in front of the nastiest crowd in the sport.
Good news, folks: the UFC is bringing "Sexy" back!
With word that fan favorite and general purveyor of pandemonium Yoshihiro Akiyama is set for a return to the Octagon later in 2014, there's a lot to like about him fighting Gastelum in his return bout.
Akiyama is the type of gutsy veteran who can truly test the youngster, based on his style of fighting and his long career in both judo and MMA. It's not hard to imagine that, had he been active regularly since his last bout in 2012, he might be in the Top 15—right around the caliber of guy Gastelum should be in there with.
This could be worth looking at for the UFC.
If you're of the mindset that Gastelum came into Saturday night ranked No. 11 in the UFC and a win should make him upwardly mobile, Saffiedine is your guy.
After a couple of failed bookings against Jake Ellenberger, Saffiedine is recuperating from injury and could line up time-wise with Gastelum. It would be a giant step up for him, as the Belgian is a former Strikeforce champion with serious durability and no particular holes in his game.
It all depends on what the UFC wants to do with Gastelum. If the company is looking at his career in the here and now, this might be the fight; if it is playing the long game, one of the other two opponents listed makes more sense.