Kelvin Gastelum's days of being a "long shot" are over.
Granted, there was a time before The Ultimate Fighter and before he shocked the world by upsetting heavy favorite Uriah Hall in the finals of that tournament, where fight fans and critics could look at the young Arizona native and marvel at accomplishments that appeared to be above his talent level.
The same could even be said for his next two victories inside the Octagon, as he made quick work out of Brian Melancon then struggled but ultimately defeated welterweight staple Rick Story via split decision at UFC 171.
There was a time for that talk, and Gastelum is determined to show that time has passed on Saturday night at UFC 180.
Throughout his four official showings under the UFC banner, the highly touted prospect has shown a continued progression in his skill set and the ability to overcome adversity inside the Octagon. The 23-year-old upstart will put his talent to the test against proven veteran Jake Ellenberger in Mexico City, in a fight that has the potential to elevate him into the next tier in the 170-pound fold.
The Juggernaut presents the precise caliber of challenge Gastelum is eager to face, and he's confident he will once again rise to the occasion on fight night.
"[Ellenberger] has been at the top of the division for a very long time," Gastelum told Bleacher Report. "He's come so close to being the No. 1 guy but has fallen just a little bit short. He has so much experience from being in big fights against big names, and he's dangerous in every aspect of the game. I'm prepared for it, and I feel I can beat him and get my hand raised.
"In my mind I need a bigger fight every time out because it motivates me more and makes me want to work even harder. It pushes me to step up to the plate. If I went into a fight that I knew I could win easily, there's a good chance it wouldn't motivate me as much. I feel I need these type of fights to be able to elevate my skills as a fighter.
"Every time I enter the cage I feel like I'm a different fighter," he added. "I've been able to change my game every time out. I get more and more comfortable, and I'm able to showcase more of my skills. I'm ready for whatever comes. I'm prepared mentally for any challenge that comes my way."
While his bout at UFC 180 will be Gastelum's first venture into the dangerous waters of the top 10, his opponent has been battling within those ranks for years. Ellenberger has traded leather with the best fighters the welterweight division has to offer, and his power-based skill set has allowed him to hold his status in the increasingly competitive divisional hierarchy. The Omaha native possesses a dangerous and versatile skill set, but Gastelum believes he'll have the advantage when the cage door closes.
In his mind, the factor that will tip the balance is the TUF alum's ability to press the action. Gastelum has a hard-charging style that allows him to remain in his opponent's face from start to finish. He believes this weapon will give Ellenberger problems once the fight gets under way and will help claim victory in the biggest fight of his young career.
"I think the pace I set will give anyone trouble," Gastelum said. "I believe a lot of people aren't ready for the type of pressure I bring. I come forward, and once I get my hands on them it's a different type of pressure than they are used to. It's bad news.
"We'll see how things go on fight night. Jake does very well fighting from inside, and once I put the pressure on him he's going to have to work from there. That said, I think once I put the pressure on him he's going to be backing up and won't be able to throw his punches. He's not going to be able to throw his kicks. He's not going to be able to take me down.
"After I win it will put me in a good spot to ask for an even bigger fight," he added. "It will allow me to ask for an opponent from the top five in the division. And it will be a huge confidence booster. I know I can compete with the best guys in the world, and this win will just solidify that I can."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.