Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum look to get back in the middleweight title picture when they fight on Saturday at UFC Apex.
They come off respective losses, so the winner has a chance to climb the rankings. However, the loser continues to tread water and finding big fights could be tough.
The online sportsbook has Cannonier as the favorite, but we’re expecting a close fight that could go the full five rounds.
Cardio Key for Gastelum
It’s no secret that Kelvin Gastelum isn’t exactly the hardest-working fighter in the UFC. His cardio continually gives out and he spends a lot of time outside the Octagon.
Just ask fellow fighter Sean Strickland, who isn’t one to mince his words.
“Kelvin has a legitimate shot (at beating Cannonier). But if Kelvin is being lazy and going all over the world taking pictures of people, then he’s gonna have a bad night,” Strickland told MMA News.
After dropping four of his last five fights, the legacy of Gastelum hangs in the balance. When he burst onto the scene in TUF, he looked prepared to work hard. Losses to Darren Till, Israel Adesanya Jack Hermansson and Robert Whittaker has dropped his record to 17-7-0.
Kelvin Gastelum if he ate literally 1 salad pic.twitter.com/JmSySbYw7h
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However, the 29-year-old remains in the top 10 for the middleweight division despite his lack of form. He was able to last five rounds with Whittaker in April and, despite losing, we think he’ll be better for the experience.
UFC odds have Gastelum as the +125 underdog. The underdog tag is something Gastelum has come accustomed to and we don’t think he’ll be bothered.
If he’s to stand a chance of beating Cannonier, he’ll need to pace himself. Too often he goes out too fast and his cardio is spent in the third round. It’s what happened against Adesanya, so he’ll need to adopt a better game plan.
Lack of Fight Time
Cannonier has fought once since September, 2019, which is a big concern against Gastelum.
We have concerns about Gastelum’s fitness, but the 37-year-old Cannonier hasn’t fought since mid-October and that was a three-round loss to Whittaker. Having gone 10 months out of the Octagon isn’t ideal, especially for someone of his age.
Middleweight showdown at #UFCVegas34!
Jared Cannonier vs Kelvin Gastelum this Saturday! pic.twitter.com/hjzThcV1bt
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However, he is currently the third-ranked middleweight after scoring knockout wins over Jack Hermansson and an aging Anderson Silva in 2019. There is little doubt Cannonier has the power edge, but he’s looking for the KO and that’s where Gastelum could use his ground game.
UFC betting markets have Cannonier as the -155 favorite. He’s short for a fighter lacking fight fitness, but we understand why he has so much support. Cannonier can end the fight with one punch, which isn’t the same case for Gastelum.
If Cannonier can make Gastelum work early and use his cardio, he could land the telling blow in the mid-rounds of a five-round contest.
Gastelum vs Cannonier Pick
It’s a battle of styles this Saturday, but there is value with underdog Gastelum. Bettors will have to trust that he wants to win this fight, but we don’t see why he wouldn’t.
He’s in danger of becoming irrelevant in the middleweight division and he’s too good to let his talent go to waste. A more focused training camp should be in the cards and we would see a return of the guy who won The Ultimate Fighter.
We’re happy to take the +125 for Gastelum and hope this fight turns into a grapple-fest. He could dominate if he gets the fight to the ground, so expect him to land an early takedown and control the fight from there.