Israel Adesanya vs. Kelvin Gastelum: Head-to-Toe Breakdown
Kelvin Gastelum was supposed to get a shot at the UFC middleweight title at UFC 234, but Robert Whittaker's abdominal injury forced the fight off the card. Israel Adesanya defeated Anderson Silva in the new main event and put himself in the catbird seat for a title shot.
Fans didn't have to wait long for a solution to the middleweight muddle following UFC 234.
On Tuesday, ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto reported UFC 236 will feature an interim middleweight title clash between Gastelum and Adesanya on April 13 as Whittaker remains sidelined.
It will be a fascinating fight between two of the best fighters in the world, and the distinct flavors they offer will force their opponent to be prepared for the worst. Can it be reduced to a simple striker vs. grappler battle? Sure, but that does a disservice to what will go down at UFC 236.
Let's break this fight down head-to-toe to determine who will walk out holding UFC gold in April.
No surprises here: Adesanya is the better striker.
Gastelum has solid boxing technique and huge power in his hands. However, he lacks the technical acumen to stand and exchange with Adesanya over long stretches. He also doesn't have the physical dimensions to be able to do so.
Gastelum is a shorter, stockier fighter. To use his power, he'd have to close the distance considerably. Adesanya's distance management isn't likely to allow that to occur, especially as he establishes his range to diminish Gastelum's takedown chances.
Adesanya has a wealth of attacking options at his disposal, but how will Gastelum's style affect what Adesanya decides to throw? Will leg kicks be used sparingly in fear of a takedown? Adesanya's game plan for how he utilizes his gifts will be an intriguing aspect of the fight.
While Adesanya has the edge as a striker, Gastelum could end the fight with one clean shot. Don't completely write him off while the fight is upright.
Since this is a striker vs. grappler bout on paper, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the wrestler has the edge here.
Gastelum's bread and butter is still on the mat. While he has power in his hands, he will fall back to his core strength against strikers such as Adesanya. Just as Adesanya has a stark advantage on the feet, there is a drastic difference between his grappling game and Gastelum's.
Adesanya has shown some takedown defense, but he hasn't had to test it like he will against Gastelum.
Gastelum will also have the ability to control the fight if the two wind up clinched along the fence. Adesanya can look for strikes from the position, but he'll need to be off the cage. Gastelum won't allow that to happen, and he'll force Adesanya to be defensive should the fight end up against the cage.
Gastelum has the clear advantage here.
We haven't seen much of Adesanya on the ground yet because that isn't his game, but we have seen Gastelum.
Adesanya will need to keep the fight off the canvas to emerge victorious. If the fight hits the floor, Gastelum's grappling edge will give him more opportunities to use his submission advantage.
Gastelum's top position control will make it difficult for Adesanya to get back to his feet. If he wants to stand again, he'll have to take chances. That's where Gastelum can score a submission.
On the opposite side of the submission coin, Gastelum isn't too much of a danger off his back. However, the likelihood of Adesanya scoring a takedown is slim anyway.
If the fight ends via tap, it'll be Adesanya doing the tapping.
Adesanya's X-Factor: Getting Up After a Takedown
Adesanya has already flashed a bit of takedown defense in his UFC tenure, and he may be able to stop some of Gastelum's takedown attempts. Even if he gets pushed against the cage, Adesanya can score offense. But if he hits the mat, he will be in trouble.
Not only will he be in danger of a potential fight-ending submission, but he may lose crucial rounds because he cannot get back to his feet.
Adesanya will need to work back up to win the fight. If he can't, Gastelum will have a much easier path to a victory.
Gastelum's X-Factor: Getting Inside Adesanya's Reach
If Gastelum cannot get inside of Adesanya's reach, especially early on, there is little way he can win the fight.
Gastelum is at a severe reach disadvantage. If he looks to land a knockout blow, he will have to wade into Adesanya's range. If Gastelum wants to take Adesanya to the mat, he can't do it from so far outside that the takedown attempt becomes telegraphed and easy to defend.
Adesanya is excellent at distance management, but Gastelum will need to be creative in working his way inside to employ his game plan.
This is a fascinating clash of styles. Not only is it a striker vs. grappler battle, but both Adesanya and Gastelum possess high-level fight IQ.
It'll be a battle of wits as much as a battle of skill.
Given Adesanya's physical attributes and style, he will have the advantage to put his game plan to work before Gastelum can. He will control the distance and pace of the fight.
Gastelum will have his moments, but Adesanya will be able to limit them over the course of 25 minutes. The fight will go five rounds, but Adesanya will lose only one of them. He'll be taken down in one of the middle rounds, figure out how to avoid the situation again and cruise to a unanimous-decision win.
The Whittaker vs. Adesanya title unification bout later in 2019 will make every fight fan salivate.
Prediction: Israel Adesanya def. Kelvin Gastelum by unanimous decision