Kelvin Gastelum would have no personal grudges with his upcoming opponent Robert Whittaker if not for the title that’s currently wrapped around his waist.
While teenagers have all sorts of aspirations when preparing for adulthood, Gastelum only had one goal in mind as a kid about to embark on the next stage of his life.
He wanted to be a UFC champion.
“I’ve been visualizing that since I was 17 years old,” Gastelum told MMAWeekly when asked about his dream to win a UFC title. “Visualization is a big key to my accomplishments. Everything that I’ve visualized for the last 10 years has happened. Not in the manner or the way that I wanted to but everything that I visualized, I accomplished.
“So far it’s worked out.”
This weekend at UFC 234, Gastelum will hold fate in his own hands as he faces Whittaker in the main event from Australia with the middleweight title going up for grabs.
Gastelum doesn’t have a bad word to say about the reigning 185-pound champion after spending six weeks together coaching ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ last year. He will admit things did get a little tense at moments as the two top ranked middleweights were sizing each other up for the fight ahead but nothing ever went out of bounds.
“He’s a pretty respectful guy. I’m pretty laid back myself but there’s just this tension the entire time between us and it’s really awkward,” Gastelum revealed. “We don’t want to have to be around each other more than we have to but he’s a respectful guy and I’m pretty laidback myself so it was pretty professional but there was just this tension there between us. I don’t know how to explain it.
“Every time we were around each other there was just this tension.”
The reality show wasn’t the first time that Gastelum had an eye on Whittaker as it turns out.
It seems as a fellow ‘Ultimate Fighter’ winner, Gastelum noticed something in Whittaker right away after he won his season of the show and he’s watched the New Zealand native transform himself from a welterweight prospect to a middleweight champion.
“Rob’s somebody I’ve followed for a while, since he won ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. I’ve always kept an eye on him like this is somebody who is going to be a good fight for me one day,” Gastelum said. “I felt like when he was working his way up the rankings, I thought this would be a fun fight.
“I’ve been watching him for a while and our styles match up really well. It’s predominantly a striking style, although I do have a wrestling background. I do have my jiu-jitsu black belt but I like to strike and Rob’s not one of those guys that looks for the takedown either so this is going to be a fun fight.”
As complimentary as he might be about his upcoming opponent, Gastelum will also say with brutal honesty that he’s not exactly putting Whittaker on some kind of pedestal either.
“I don’t think he’s anything special,” Gastelum said. “The guy has a great set of skills, he works hard, I hear nothing but good things about Rob.”
In any other situation, Gastelum and Whittaker might be friends or at worst acquaintances given their shared respect and admiration for each other’s skills.
Compliments aside, Gastelum knows that if he wants to live out his dream to become UFC champion it’s Whittaker who has to be sacrificed and he’s going to do anything and everything possible to make that happen on Saturday night.
“Unfortunately he’s got what I want,” Gastelum said. “Now I have to rip his head off to take it. I don’t have any ill will towards Rob.
“He’s just got what I want so I’ve got to beat him. I’ve got to take what he’s got.”