Gastelum took a lot of people by surprise on TUF. Even if you felt like Uriah Hall was overrated, and never bought into Dana's hyperbolic enthusiasm that saw Dana treat every Hall knockout like it was his first time seeing one (to be fair, Hall's finishes were uniquely violent)...there's a good chance you still thought Gastelum wasn't good enough to expose Hall.
Not only have the proverbial tables turned, but Gastelum is now being looked at as the prospect while Hall has disappeared into Fight Pass limbo (in fan minds at least).
Kelvin spots a perfect 7-0 pro record, and is coming off a win over the very sturdy, and underrated Brian Melancon.
For Story, it's all about finding his way back. Here's a guy who began his UFC career with big wins over Dustin Hazelett (though he had just lost to Paul Daley, Dustin was still seen as a hot prospect), Johny Hendricks, and Thiago Alves only to lose his next two fights back to back against Charlie Brenneman and Martin Kampmann.
Matchup wise, Story would appear to have the edge on paper. He's a big welterweight, and that size will be even more pronounced against a fighter who will likely end up fighting at lightweight in the near future.
Story has slowly improved on the feet. While his movement is still a bit stiff, he likes to throw heavy combinations in tight, and has a knack and love of going to the body, which is always a pleasure to see.
Gastelum looks like Story-lite. He's a sharp, polished wrestler who can violently mix it up in tight with strikes. I'm gonna go on a limb and pick Kelvin here. Since I don't have credibility when it comes to accuracy, I'm not losing anything here, but hear me out for a second. All two of you.
Story is not a great defensive wrestler. Gastelum will not only have the speed to get a deep single or double on him, but even with his stature, he's incredibly powerful. In fact, it might be impossible for him to move down. I also suspect he can win the exchanges. He has a sharp left uppercut from his southpaw stance that I suspect he'll be able to land and stagger Story with. Story seems too content to swing wildly, whereas Gastelum is a little more polished, and definitely quicker. It was nice to see Story get a win at UFC 167, but I feel like Brian Ebersole is a fighter trending down, while Gastelum, who turned 22 not too long ago, will continue to improve. So in summation: Gastelum in the exchanges, taking advantage of Story's takedown defense.
Prediction: Kelvin Gastelum by Decision.
Looking back at TUF, the women's lineup was reasonable, and better than anticipated. It was the necessary lineup for a broader appetite for women's MMA, and what they can offer. Pennington is a good example of what gatekeepers like Pennington bring; a soul made of rock n'roll. Her record is an unspectacular 4-3, but she has solid wins over decent fighters like Raquel Pa'aluhi and Roxanne Modafferi.
Despite being 25, she brings less experience to the table against the Brazilian product out of Parana Vale Tudo. Andrade is 10-3, and got herself some name recognition when she put up a very spirited effort against the the much bigger Liz Carmouche.
This is a solid fight between two women who still feel like prospects. But it very clearly favors Andrade. Andrade simply has a higher skill set than Pennington. While it's competitive on the feet, Jessica will be looking to get the fight to the ground to work from top control to do the usual grapple, pass, and submit schtick. What I like about Andrade is that she doesn't overthink her work on the ground. This is the hallmark of a positionally sound fighter. The majority of her submissions wins have come by way of guillotine, which is an excellent submission to master and have in your back pocket (like a striker with one hitter quitter power).
It's not a wash on the feet though. Pennington is all about knowing how, and when to land her right hand. She also knows that it helps to play the numbers game. If you swing it enough times, it'll land. Nonetheless, her active but predictable way of boxing will make her more prone to the takedown. Raquel does a good job of landing strikes in prone positions, so you can think of that as an x-factor, but Andrade is a thoroughly tough cookie. I highly doubt she'll wilt to strikes to the side of the head while she clings to the ankle pick.
Prediction: Jessica Andrade by RNC, round 2.
It's very easy to imagine a scenario where Dennis is the TUF winner. In his fight against Brandao, they took the coin flip method to combat sports. Brandao seemed all but finished at one point. Bermudez has gone 5-0 since then, improving to 12-3 overall.
Nonetheless, it's fitting that for two guys who were finalists that abandoned any semblance of a gameplan to be where they are in the division: sort of middle of the pack. Bermudez has been in tough fights that didn't need to be. No matter how unbelievable his bout with Matt Grice, Grice has been too inactive in recent years to be considered a big win.
At 11-1, Hettes has only suffered one blemish; a loss to Marcus Brimage at UFC 152. The difficult part about picking a fight like this is that each man possesses at least one trait that can become the different in the bout at any given time. Bermudez has immense power in his right hand, and he uses his striking well to compliment his Division 1 wrestling prowess.
However, he's very hittable. Hettes isn't necessarily a specialist on the feet, but there's no substitute for accuracy; a well timed punch doesn't need to be thrown with the vengeance of god behind it. It just needs to land on the chin to an unsuspecting opponent. The problem with Bermudez is that while he keeps a relatively high guard, he doesn't always keep a high guard. And then when he swings his combinations, they're thrown somewhat haphazardly. Though Hettes might try to look for that opening, he'll need the fight on the ground.
Hettes was a pleasure to watch when he debuted against Alex Cacares and then put on a Judo clinic against Nam Phan. But the fight against Brimage exposed his limitations. He has a tough time dealing with quicker opponents. While Bermudez isn't as quick as Brimage, he fights similarly and has the capacity to avoid Hettes' attempts to get top control, and look to pass guard.
This is what I suspect will happen here: Hettes jabs and lands form afar, but struggles to get the takedown, and then allows Dennis to get more comfortable to land in tight. It's not an easy pick by any stretch. Hettes will use his length to avoid getting smashed, but I feel like Hettes has a tougher route to victory (avoiding getting hit, and successfully getting takedowns) than Bermudez (wing punches from afar and in close whenever, and however while avoiding the ground). Excellent matchmaking though for a very good Fox Sports card in general.
Prediction: Dennis Bermudez by Decision.
Sean Spencer vs. Alex Garcia Welterweight
Despite Wikipedia's confusion over whether or not Spencer was born in two different years as the result of some ghastly scientific experiement, the 26 year old will be looking to improve on his 11-2 record. He's coming off an impressive (in terms of performance) win over Drew Dober.
Across from him is the Tristar Gymn product, Alex Garcia, who has a similar record at 11-1. The difference however, is that Garcia has only gone to a decision once, whereas Spencer has gone to a decision 7 times. It's a mundane observation in any other context, but because both guys like to keep it standing, it nonetheless highlights their opposing philosophies.
Before his fight with Ben Wall, I highlighted the ill intent behind the way he throws his left hook from his traditional stance. Sure enough, Ben Wall tasted it early, and didn't like it too much. Same story here: Garcia loves to throws the left hook and also likes his lead uppercut. He's a powerful wrestler when he wants to be, with a particularly explosive double leg.
Like Garcia, Spencer also throws a very fluid uppercut. It's the kind of punch guys are often afraid of throwing in mixed martial arts because it leaves them relatively vulnerable. Unlike in boxing where you can throw it and still protect the other side of your face, you don't have that luxury in MMA. For reference, see Chuck Liddell getting tombstoned by Rashad Evans. Though to be fair, it doesn't prove my point. It was just a really badly thrown punch by Chuck who could get away with it for once having a tough granite chin.
This is kind of a tough fight to predict. Garcia certainly has the edge in power, but Spencer is a little more fluid. I also don't like how Garcia is very very predictable on the feet. You know he wants to throw that left hook, and when, and he;s more than happy to oblige. Nonetheless, power is the great equalizer in this sport.
But I like Spencer's more well rounded game. Even though Garcia is a handful on the ground, Spencer knows how to handle himself on the feet and I also like that he's committed to the body when he needs to be. This will be especially relevant for a fighter like Garcia who has shown himself to have a questionable gas tank. Thus...
Prediction: Sean Spencer by Decision.