Gastelum entered enemy territory to take on the Brazilian at Jeunesse Arena and had to overcome some early adversity to walk away with the split decision win. Souza, a submission specialist, pulled guard to get Gastelum down in the opening round and mounted the 26-year old. He delivered punches and elbows before trying to seal the deal with an armbar. Gastelum stayed poised and escaped the submission attempt as the rounded ended.
The second frame couldn’t have looked more different than the first. Souza looked fatigued and Gastelum was successfully defending his takedown attempts. Gastelum landed a left hand through the middle of Souza’s defense and dropped the longtime contender. Gastelum initially looked to finish the fight with strikes on the ground but opted to let Souza back to his feet. Souza slowly rose and went on the attack.
Heading into the third round, it was anyone’s fight. Souza regularly landed his right hand but Gastelum wasn’t fazed. He pressed forward. Souza secured a takedown in the round but Gastelum immediately got back to his feet. The fight ended with Gastelum picking up the pace and taking the fight to Souza. After fifteen minutes of back and forth fighting, the judges scored the fight for Gastelum by split decision.
Souza has finished several middleweights with his punching power but Gastelum was able to walk through the veteran’s strikes. He was hit flush multiple times and never took a step back.
“I definitely felt the shots but I didn’t feel like it would have knocked me out. I definitely felt them but I didn’t feel dazed or anything like that,” Gastelum said about Souza’s power.
With the win, Gastelum built on the momentum he gained by knocking out former champion Michael Bisping in his previous outing. After taking out the No. 2 ranked contender, Gastelum called for a title shot next.
“Hopefully I’m in line next for that title,” Gastelum said. I feel like the winner should fight the winner of Yoel [Romero] and Robert [Whittaker] later on this year, preferably in Madison Square [Garden].”