With all the hype surrounding the main card going into UFC 200 it’s easy to forget that the prelims are also playing host to some pretty interesting match-ups. One particular fight that stands out is the welterweight showdown between the division’s former champion Johny Hendricks (17-4) and The Ultimate Fighter season 17 winner, Kelvin Gastelum (11-2).
A win for either fighter could be the catalyst that kick starts a run at the 170lb title. However, given that both men are coming off losses, another defeat would be a major setback – especially for Hendricks who at 32-years-old might have to give up on a shot at regaining the belt.
Hendricks was easily dispatched by Stephen Thompson in his last fight and so another loss at the hands of one of the division’s rising stars in Gastelum could put the writing on the wall for ‘Big Rig’s’ career.
For Gastelum, the repercussions of a loss might not be quite so absolute, but they certainly won’t help him. Both of the 24-year-old’s defeats have been narrow split decisions, the latest of which was against Neil Mangy in Mexico last November.
If he loses again on Saturday it could force him to reconsider his future at welterweight where, like Hendricks, he’s had trouble making weight in the past.
The first thing to point out about these two fighters is that they’re essentially both wrestlers with heavy hands. However, that’s a description that tars two unique fighters with the same brush and doesn’t do justice to the real range of techniques that these guys bring to an MMA fight.
When it comes to the striking, Hendricks’ biggest threat is his absolute bomb of a left hand. You only have to look as far as his highlight reel knockouts of Martin Kampmann and Jon Fitch to notice that. Where he is limited is in his range of techniques.
Gastelum might not carry quite as much power in his hands as Hendricks but his variety of strikes is a lot better. If he can fight intelligently and avoid getting into a swinging match with ‘Big Rig’ then he should have the advantage on the feet.
Where Hendricks will be more effective is with his grappling. Gastelum has used his wrestling effectively throughout his career but he’s yet to face someone with the credentials of Hendricks. The two-time NCAA collegiate wrestling champion wrestles as well as anybody inside the octagon, and although Gastelum will make it hard, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the former champion land a takedown or two (or three, or four…or five).
Once on the mat both fighters are more than capable of finishing the fight. Gastelum is far more dangerous than Hendricks when it comes to submissions but Hendricks should be able to nullify that threat as long as he’s on top.
Fans should expect this one to go the distance. If the fight stays on the feet then Gastelum should be able to do enough to earn the decision. However, it’s far more likely that we’ll see Hendricks grind away at Gastelum by out-wrestling him and trying to stay on top. It might not be the prettiest fight but the former champion should be able to do enough to get his hand raised and begin his journey back to the top of the division.
Prediction: Hendricks via unanimous decision.