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UFC 183: Silva vs. Diaz - Toe to Toe Preview: Complete Breakdown of Kelvin Gastelum vs. Tyron Woodley

Phil and David return for a complete breakdown of Kelvin Gastelum vs. Tyron Woodley at UFC 183 in a welterweight match that could be either violent, or just merely interesting.

Artwork by Phil MacKenzie

Kelvin Gastelum takes on Tyron Woodley in the co-main event of UFC 183 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on January 31st. NOTE: This preview was submitted before Gastelum catastrophically missed weight.

Welterweight (170 lbs)

Kelvin Gastelum 10-0
Odds: -120

Tyron "The Chosen One" Woodley 14-3
Odds: +100

Single line summary:

Phil: The ascendant Gastelum attempts to get over the fence which separates him from the elite of the welterweight division.

David: The ascendant Gastelum attempts to get over the fence which separates him from the Lovecraftian manifestation of knockout power in Robbie Lawler.

History Lesson / Introduction:

Phil: Kelvin Gastelum won his season of TUF as an underdog against Uriah Hall. In the time since, he's posted a flawless record, and has supplemented his quick and deadly submission grappling with pugnacious combination kickboxing. As Gunnar Nelson was turned away by Rick Story (whom Kelvin narrowly defeated), Gastelum is now easily the most accomplished prospect in the UFC's welterweight division.

David: I didn't realize Kelvin's status until you just laid it out, but that's true. I just hope he continues improving because WW could use some new blood. I never thought he was terrible on the show, but he always seemed undersized and doughy despite some solid fundamentals. How wrong first impressions can be.

Phil: Tyron Woodley has always been a man aware of the stakes and how he fights. Starting off his career as a knockout machine, he changed his style to a far safer and more boring approach in Strikeforce. Much like Dong Hyun Kim (whom he knocked out), he then reverted to type as a power hitter, which has garnered him both wins and losses.

Perhaps most importantly, Woodley has muscles for days.

David: What do I do when I wittingly post a broken link and don't have time to ask you for the correct one? Sit here and publicize it of course. I'm glad you add the "most importantly" part though. Unlike the whole "athletic and explosive" thing, Rogan's fascination with the flaw of having muscles in place of epidermis feels bizarre rather than racial. I always go back and forth with Rogan; sometimes he's good, sometimes serviceable, and sometimes he's flat out radioactive. The Amirhani post fight interview might represent a nadir, but the bio-analysis thing is just as distracting.

What are the stakes?

Phil: After a woeful performance against Rory MacDonald, Woodley desperately needed to reignite interest in himself as a top contender. Fortunately, he was able to step in against Dong Hyun Kim, whose current wacky incarnation was easy meat for Woodley's reactive style. However, Tyron is still on something of a knife edge- I get the impression that Dana doesn't really trust him to deliver in fights.

David: Yep. Woodley might be able to turn this into a sincere stakes bout if he wasn't so inconsistent with his performances. Part of it is finding his game. I don't think he's ever managed to forge his own identity as a fighter; that uncertainty has cost him, though I've always given him leeway given his young his career is. Kelvin makes no such excuses, however. Which is why I think this is a good fight for both men.

Where do they want it?

Phil: What a weird one this is. Woodley is one of the few fighters who will actively, deliberately, and almost always put his back to the cage.

This probably began as an instinctive reaction to the habits of most MMA fighters. The vast majority of them will start to open up more confidently when their opponent is backed into the fence, which allows Woodley to explode at them with the blast double or the right hand. He does have some powerful leg kicks and a jab, but these are ancillary to his core game, which I would approximately refer to as "power countering".

The advantages of his approach are smoke and mirrors to some extent. Against an opponent disciplined or skilled enough to not compromise himself when Woodley is "trapped", this tactic changes from being something which exploits the habits of others, to being a particularly dangerous personal tic. Being backed into the cage isn't a good place to be, and offers almost no tangible strategic benefits aside from the occasional Belcher/Aldo Cage Superman Punch, and as a prop for recovering from takedowns. Given Woodley's stout takedown defense and herculean physicality in the clinch, getting taken down isn't generally something he needs to worry about.

However, for all his flaws, Tyron is still extremely fast and extremely strong, packing murderous power. So, the question becomes: if Woodley is doing his Woodley thing, is Kelvin clever, disciplined and defensively sound enough to really show him why it's a bad idea? This is at the root of why this is quite such a perfect step up for Gastelum- there's a clearly defined threat in front of him, and he needs to neutralize it efficiently.

David: Interesting breakdown. You see "power countering", I see "uncertain pressuring". It's not that Woodley is worried about being taken down. It's that he doesn't know the mechanics of how offense can transition from one facet to another. He's like a runner that needs to use one arm to get passed each hurdle. That half a second too late way of thinking through a fight is what forces him into moments of inertia.

Aside from that, he's capable of throwing. I think he under utilizes his leg kicks, but his boxing is fine for the division. He packs stupid power in both hands, and is actually pretty good at countering when comfortable. I think Kelvin's job will be pressuring Tyron without committing. Kelvin's jab will need to work overtime, but I can't help but feel like grappling will be a dramatic factor in this fight.

Insight from past fights:

Phil: The Rory and Marquardt fights show two potential ways to beat Woodley: one of them is to fight him from the outside, use feints to discourage him, and pick him off. The Marquardt fight showed that getting in past the bubble of reactive offense around Woodley enables the opponent to outwork him in close, because his clinch is naturally stifled by the cage at his back.

Kelvin has the crisp southpaw jab and quick kicks to perform the first gameplan, and also the pace and phonebooth offense to perform the second. He's been fearless as hell in his UFC tenure thus far, so I think it's conceivable that he tries both- literally attempting to win the fight in every phase. To me, this is dangerous, and the transitional spaces between these two approaches are where Woodley could seriously hurt him.

David: It's the Gastelum vs. Story fight that worries me though. Kelvin didn't really back off after Story clocked him and had him out for a split second. While it's impressive that he was able to maintain his composure, I felt like he should have adjusted, and more to the point, can he recover from the kind of shots Tyron will surely land?


Phil: Woodley's game off his back. Gastelum has an excellent reactive shot, and while Woodley is extremely difficult to get down, it can be done. When Rory took him down in the third round of their fight, Woodley looked outclassed on the mat. Kelvin has a strong top game, and has a Faberian knack for teleporting to the opponent's back in ground exchanges.

David: Yep. I'm cool with Woodley not practicing much off his back if he doesn't need to. I'm a firm believer in working on your strengths more than your weaknesses because your strengths are what make you special. Woodley might not like the philosophy if he ends up getting choked out, but Kelvin won't like it if Woodley keeps learning new tricks on the feet while being impenetrable upright.


Phil: In the most lazily reductive way, this is a little like the Gus-Rumble fight, where one fighter possesses the majority of the finishing offense, and the other has the superior attritional tools to win the fight when it goes long (but isn't as defensively sound as you'd really like). Although I think we might get a scare along the way, I like the younger fighter's broader toolset and Kelvin Gastelum by decision

David: You just articulated why Woodley can, and should win. Kelvin is not quite as defensively sound as Gus and even has the similarities of being a little too hittable. Tyron Woodley by TKO, round 2.