Before Kevin Gastelum stepped into the UFC’s Octagon on Saturday night in Las Vegas, the roars were deafening. Those deafening roars were not for the 21-year-old, however. Rather, what he heard was the hype train of Uriah Hall drawing near. Since the 17th season of The Ultimate Fighter began filming, UFC President Dana White had been singing the praises of Hall’s devastating physical prowess. And for good reason. You see, Hall had been handing out free rides on the ambulance to every opponent he had faced. The general public had yet to see it, but when the show aired, we were all in awe. In the 17 seasons the competition had been in place, there had never been a fighter as vicious as Hall.
Meanwhile, Gastelum flew under the radar as a relatively inexperienced kid who just may have been in over his head as the youngest competitor in TUF history. It didn’t help that he was the last pick for Chael Sonnen‘s team either. It just emphasized the fact that the product of Yuma, Arizone has a large mountain to climb if he ever wanted to be a UFC fighter. But the young fighter wouldn’t let anything deter him from his goal. He was an underdog against Jon Jones‘ buddy Bubba McDaniel and a little motivation courtesy of a call from UFC women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey pushed Gastelum to score a surprising second round finish. Eyes were opened that perhaps everyone had been sleeping on Gastelum. But while he appeared to be slept on, Uriah Hall was creating highlight reels with one nasty knockout after another. Gastelum was impressive as he scored knockouts over Collin Hart and heavily favored #2 pick of Jon Jones, Josh Samman. Unfortunately, whatever Gastelum accomplished was outdone by Hall.
So it wasn’t surprising when Hall entered The Ultimate Fighter finale in Las Vegas as an overwhelming favorite over Gastelum. Hall had become this monster of a man who was being tabbed as a champion before even winning the competition while Gastelum was merely supposed to be another carcass littered across his highlight reel.
But something interesting happened on Saturday evening.
The people turned on Hall and began rooting heavily for Gastelum. Perhaps tired of the noisy hype train of Uriah Hall, fight fans inside of the Mandalay Bay wanted to see if the underdog could pull off the major upset. As the two fighters entered the cage to see who would take home the six-figure UFC contract and a new Harley Davidson motorcycle, the deafening noise for Hall had morphed into “Kelvin! Kelvin!” chants. And once the bell sounded, the superhuman known as Uriah Hall was swiftly brought down to earth by Gastelum.
In the first round, Hall sought an opening to deliver one of the many kicks that had sent opponents out of consciousness. But rather than waiting for Hall to create a highlight video of him, Gastelum charged forward and aggressively attacked. Hall bobbed and weaved through the youngster’s advances but Gastelum finally got close enough to wrap his arms around Hall and take him down to the canvas. And at that very moment, everyone knew that Gastelum was for real. With Gastelum taking the first round, it was up to Hall to prove that his hype was much deserved and came out more aggressive in round two. Gastelum again promptly dumped Hall on his back. But this time, Hall managed to pull off a nifty reversal and scored some solid strikes. As the round drew to a close, Hall scored a takedown and pulled off a brilliantly executed German suplex that gave him the round.
With the fight hanging in the balance, Gastelum and Hall knew that they couldn’t relax for a nanosecond. But it would be Gastelum’s wrestling that kept the deadly striker in check as he grounded the New York product and controlled the action for the most part. Still, Hall put together some impressive offense that made it a difficult round to score. But the judges saw it in favor of Gastelum with scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29 and sent the Mandalay Bay exploding into cheers. David had slain Goliath.
When interviewed after the fight, Gastelum could barely fight through the tears of joy to find words to explain his exhilaration. That’s expected though when you when the biggest competition of your life against all odds. “He was trying to take something that I felt like I deserved and I’m not going to let anyone take that from me,” Gastelum said afterwards. “I’m just so emotional.”
If nobody believed in Kelvin Gastelum before Saturday night, they will now.