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Kelvin Gastelum on his renewed mentality ahead of Robert Whittaker matchup

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No. 8-ranked UFC middleweight Kelvin Gastelum opens up to Kevin Iole on getting a "mind coach" and looking to prove himself before his main event bout vs. Robert Whittaker on Saturday, April 17.

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, folks. I am Kevin Iole. And my guest right now is Kelvin Gastelum, one of my favorite guys in the UFC. And you always have a good time chatting with Kelvin. He fights Robert Whittaker, the former middleweight champion, on Saturday over at Apex here in Las Vegas.

You got your hands full with this one, Kelvin. Thanks for joining me. How do you see this fight going down? Robert Whittaker is a tough cookie, no doubt.

KELVIN GASTELUM: Yeah, man. Kevin, thanks for talking with me, chatting with me. Always have a good time, like you said, my man.

And yeah, got my hands full. I got the number one guy in my division, which is what I signed up for. This is what I wanted. And it's actually a matchup that I've been wanting for a long time just because I know how exciting Rob is, I know how skilled he is, And it's just a matchup that I wanted for a long time, even before he was champion.

KEVIN IOLE: Interesting.

I think it's a really fun matchup. And I asked him this. He said he can imagine the fight going a number of different ways. And I wonder-- you would probably agree. You were wrestling-heavy against Ian Heinisch last time out, but would you agree with him that this fight has the potential to be all sorts of different places?

KELVIN GASTELUM: 100%. He's a very versatile fighter, he's a very well-rounded fighter, and I believe I am, too. So we both have different weapons that we want to use and implement, and so yeah, I think we're gonna see a little bit of everything in this fight.

KEVIN IOLE: If I were to give him an edge over you in the fight-- he seems to be very consistent, and you are up and down. Your highs are really, really high, and your lows-- you lose some fights that people don't think you're going to lose.

First of all, do you agree with that? And secondly, how do you solve that problem if you do?

KELVIN GASTELUM: Yeah, no, I definitely agree with that. And that's something that I've been trying to fix. Just add more consistency to my work, add more consistency to winning, and really, really prove that I'm still amongst the best middleweights in the world.

KEVIN IOLE: When you see Marvin Vettori-- and he's another one of those guys. He's consistent. He's out there. He's always working to get better.

Is there any impact that he has on you? I know you guys work together and whatnot. Is there any impact he's had on you when you get an eyeball on him and see him on a daily basis?

KELVIN GASTELUM: Yeah, no, he's a guy that is a workhorse. You always see him working no matter if he's got a fight or not. He is just always working and grinding and training hard, and that's inspiring. It's inspiring to me, even.

And it's cool to have him in the gym, pushing me, making me better, and we make each other better. Yeah, we've had some good training sessions, him and I, man.

KEVIN IOLE: They might be pay-per-view-worthy, seeing those training sessions between the two of you going down, I would think, right?

KELVIN GASTELUM: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. There's a couple of clips online-- you can probably check 'em out-- between him and I, and it's a banger.

KEVIN IOLE: As I look at the division-- and I just got the UFC rankings up. Whittaker rated number one, and you are ranked eighth. And Marvin's in there, third.

I would imagine, given your situation, you probably don't want to fight him. But if you win this fight, you'll probably jump up, and that's gonna be one of the fights that might be in the mix for you. Have you guys spoken about that? What would happen if UFC offers you Vettori in your next time out?

KELVIN GASTELUM: Not in detail, but we know we're both in the same division. But I feel like if it's not for a title, then I'm not gonna fight my own teammate.

KEVIN IOLE: So you're just-- hey, let's go somewhere else and go out there.

KELVIN GASTELUM: Yeah. I wouldn't fight my teammate just-- if it's not for a title, then I don't see no sense in it.

KEVIN IOLE: Not even if they say it's a contenders' fight. The winner gets the title. Even in that regard, it wouldn't interest you? Only for a championship would be the stipulation you'd make?

KELVIN GASTELUM: I believe so, yeah. If it was for the title, that'd be the only way.

KEVIN IOLE: OK.

When you look at Whittaker, he's been so consistent, as we've said over the years. In that regard, it reminds me of Kamaru Usman, just reeling off wins and everything. What do you make of him, and what do you think you have to do well to negate his strength?

KELVIN GASTELUM: Well, he's a guy that I've seen for a long time now. And I think I've studied his game quite a bit now and prepared for him back in 2019. So we just went back to that. We went back to those same strategies.

Obviously, he's a much better and improved fighter. But overall, the foundation of him is still the same, and so we went back to those strategies. We went back and looked up at the videos. We were training and looking at what we were doing at that time, preparing for him. And so, when I took the fight, I was pretty confident, because I had prepared for him already.

KEVIN IOLE: Let's go back a little bit to the Ian Heinisch fight, because there was a lot of pressure on you. You came into that fight on a three-fight losing streak. Now, to me, I'm gonna say-- and I think you would probably agree with this-- that's not your typical three-fight losing streak. You lose one of the all-time great fights to Adesanya. You lose a split decision to Darren Till, and then the fight with Jack Hermansson.

But still, you're on a three-fight losing streak. What was your mindset going into that fight? And did you feel and did you fight like that was do-or-die that night?

KELVIN GASTELUM: I definitely felt that kind of pressure, but I believe I thrive under that pressure and I do my best when I'm under that kind of pressure. I just went in there. I fought a real methodical fight. It wasn't too risky.

I didn't take too many high risks. Just real methodical. Just basics. I went back to my basics. I went back to my foundation, which was wrestling.

And yeah, just needed to get the W. I just needed to get my hand raised and just feel that again, and went out there and executed. So that can happen.

KEVIN IOLE: In the Mexican fight culture, they love warriors and guys that get out there and trade and bang. And you think of your fight with Adesanya, and that was that fight. You two guys put on an incredible show.

And I wonder if maybe you bought into that a little bit too much-- like, I want to be the warrior. And maybe now, as you get more mature into your fight career, have you had a change where you maybe start to look at it a little differently and say, just win and look good in the next one?

KELVIN GASTELUM: Absolutely. I feel like after the fight with Adesanya, maybe I did feel that way a little bit. Actually, for my next couple of fights, I had that mentality. And obviously, it didn't work out in my favor, and so I really had to go back and really dig deep and really dig into my mind, into my psyche to change that mentality, 'cause it wasn't working for me.

And so that's what I did. I'm working with a mind coach at the moment. And he's been with me since the Ian Heinisch fight and has really changed my approach to fighting a little bit, because I just feel more focused, more lasered in, more locked in to what's in front of me.

I feel like maybe, in those other fights, I was eager to get back on top. I was eager to get back that rematch. But obviously, it didn't work out in my favor. Mentally, I just wasn't there.

KEVIN IOLE: There's a famous golf mental coach. His name is Dr. Bob Rotella. And one of his phrases was always, stay in the present. Once you hit a shot, it's in the past. You can't worry about that, and you can't think about the next one.

And I wonder if your coaches work with you on that, because it seems to be, in fighting, that's a thing. If you're thinking about mistakes you made before, you're thinking about how you want the outcome to be, it's not gonna get you the outcome you want.

KELVIN GASTELUM: Correct.

KEVIN IOLE: Is that something that you guys work on together by just keeping yourself focused on the task at hand, and nothing before and nothing after?

KELVIN GASTELUM: 1,000%, yes. We have a saying. It's just all-in. All-in every second, all-in every hour, all-in every session, every minute. Just staying present.

That was a big game-changer for me, was just staying more present, more aware of what's in front of me rather than thinking of what can happen with a win, what can happen when you lose, just thinking of other variables that don't really matter until the fight is over.

KEVIN IOLE: That's an interesting thing, the modern athlete now. You look, and Kevin Holland, last week, picked up a sports psychologist he talked about, and you're doing it. So all of a sudden, you guys are getting a lot of different tools at your disposal. I guess, as the salaries rise, you can afford to do those things.

Do you think that makes the quality of the sport better, because guys some people choose to get a mental coach? Other people choose different things. But now, when you're making more money, you guys can maybe do some separate things to differentiate yourself from the pack, in terms of preparation and coaching?

KELVIN GASTELUM: Yeah, absolutely. Now we have a little bit more resources to be able to go out and find people to help you out. And I think that was a big game-changer for me. I never even thought in my life I'd be acquiring the help of a mental coach. I felt like I was pretty mentally locked in.

But no, man. Things happen, and I feel like a lot of us maybe even need a mind coach or a therapist to help you throughout your days.

KEVIN IOLE: I think with you, Kelvin, one thing that some people forget-- you've been around a long time. You're not even 30 years old yet. And everything that you've accomplished in your career-- you're 16 and safe. You've beaten a lot of really good fighters. You've been out there.

Do you feel like the best is yet to come from you? As much as we've seen, do you feel like we're still gonna see more?

KELVIN GASTELUM: Oh, yeah. 100%, Kevin. I feel I've only shown maybe even 50% of my potential. And now that I'm much more older and a little bit more mature, a little bit smarter, I feel like the best days are ahead of me still.

KEVIN IOLE: Don't you dare ever say older when you're 29 years old. Oh, to be 29.

[LAUGHTER]

KELVIN GASTELUM: A little bit more mature. A little bit more mature.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, let's go that way. I know mature.

KELVIN GASTELUM: I'm not 21 years old. I'm not that 21-year-old kid anymore. I'm about to be 30 in October, and it's just crazy seeing that change in me, that change in my career. I feel like I'm starting my career over again. I feel like I got a fresh start, and I'm gonna make the most out of it.

Now, all that, packed with all the experience, all the good, the bad, the ups and downs, the fights that I've had-- I'm excited for the future.

KEVIN IOLE: That is awesome.

Let's wrap it here, Kelvin. How do you see the fight going down? Do you finish Robert? He's been difficult. Adesanya finished him. He's a difficult guy to finish. Do you think you finish him, or how do you see it going?

KELVIN GASTELUM: You know what? I don't know how it's gonna go out. I just know that we're gonna go out there. We're gonna lay our hearts out in that canvas, and it's gonna be a fun night. It's gonna be a fun night for fight fans.

KEVIN IOLE: Awesome.

That is Kelvin Gastelum. On Saturday, on ESPN, you can catch him against former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker at Apex, live here in Las Vegas.

Kelvin, best of luck, my man. Always good to see you.

KELVIN GASTELUM: Appreciate it. Likewise, brother.

KEVIN IOLE: Seeya.