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ABU DHABI – When Darren Till announced his move up to middleweight, few expected he’d get such a tough outing from the start.
Count Kelvin Gastelum among those who were surprised. Gastelum (15-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) will face Till (17-2-1 MMA, 5-2-1 UFC) at UFC 244, which takes place Nov. 2 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Gastelum admitted he was a little tentative to take the fight.
“At first thought, I was like, ‘I don’t know if it’s worth it for me to accept this kind of fight because he is coming off a two-fight losing streak,’” Gastelum told MMA Junkie. “I feel like I’m still in title contention, and I feel like I should get one of those top guys. But I want to fight in Madison Square Garden.”
Gastelum is coming off a war with Israel Adesanya at UFC 236, a fight in which he showed heart and durability, but ultimately fell short in a quest to capture the interim middleweight title.
He thinks he’s still in title contention, but just doesn’t think a win over Till will push him to where he wants to be.
“I put a lot of thought on who my opponent is and why I’m fighting him, and will it get me to the title shot – will it get me closer to where I want to go,” Gastelum said. “I definitely asked those questions, and none of them applied to Darren Till. I don’t think if I win – it’s not going to get me a title shot. It’s not getting me closer. But I just think I need to go out there and make a statement against a guy like Darren Till because of my last performance. I want to go out there, I want to show that I’m still hungry, I’m still in contention, and I’m still one of the best guys around at this weight class.”
After an undefeated start to his career, Till is coming off back-to-back losses to Tyron Woodley at UFC 228 and Jorge Masvidal at UFC on ESPN+ 5. It’s no secret he’s struggled to make the 170-pound limit, prompting him to make the move up to middleweight.
But Gastelum doesn’t think Till will be able to handle the middleweights like he’s been able to. Middleweight is a division Gastelum has fought in numerous times throughout his career.
“It’s a little scary,” Gastelum said. “The guys are a little bit bigger, they hit a little harder, but they are a little slower. It’s a little scary. I don’t think it’ll be an easy transition for him. I think he’s going to have trouble with these bigger guys and competing at this weight class, to be honest. He hasn’t fought guys this big, I don’t think.
“I’ve been fighting middleweights my entire career. I went down to welterweight for a little stint, but then I went back up.”
Since Gastelum doesn’t think the fight with Till will get him into title contention, he thinks he needs to make a statement, hopefully coming out a little more unscathed than his last battle.
“I’m expecting a short fight,” Gastelum said. “I’m not trying to go and have another war. I’m going to work hard to try so I can be able to put this guy away.”
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