Kelvin Gastelum vs. Neil Magny close the show with what should be a solid bout this November 21, 2015 at the Arena Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: Will-he/won't-he takes on slow and steady for a crack at the welterweight top 10.
David: Projects battle it out to decide who the real Prospect is.
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Kelvin Gastelum won his season of the ultimate fighter in a major upset over Uriah Hall which was very unsurprising in retrospect. He'd be one of the very best prospects in the sport... if he could keep his weight under control.
David: He's approaching some John Lineker level incompetence on the scale. Thankfully for Kelvin and Hall, Kelvin did not turn out to be the Efraun Escudero of the Phillpe Nover TUF Finale.
Phil: Neil Magny did not win his season of the ultimate fighter, or even come close. Still, through sheer diligence and working his way up the totem pole, he's made himself into a top 15 fighter, gradually and organically developing a well-rounded game.
David: Magny's ascent has been fascinating. Even his raw talent didn't look strong enough to gain the kind of status he's experienced in the division currently. Some fighters benefit from the show in an abstract sense; the experience of what's at stake becomes more vivid and realized, and so as their seriousness increases, so does their technique. Magny has benefited from a philosophical change in a big way.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Gastelum was on the fast track to a title shot before he missed weight and lost to Woodley. His fight at middleweight against Marquardt and this one are basically the dues Zuffa wanted him to pay to get back on track. For Magny, a chance to affirm that he's not just a hard-working gatekeeper but a legit upper-level threat.
David: If Magny were 23, he wouldn't be getting this fight. Zuffa is looking for their Gleison Tibau of the division, and Magny could be it. The stakes are higher for Gastelum, who could be an actual question mark in the WW hierarchy in this post GSP world.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Gastelum is an aggressive pressure fighter, working off a crisp right jab and combination followups, as when he dropped Brian Melancon. He's a good offensive wrestler, and has a wonderful, instinctive knack for taking the back. Historically the most impressive thing about Gastelum is his ability to still outwork opponents despite the fact that everyone knows that he isn't the most disciplined fighter outside the cage. There's a tangible difference between a gym workhorse and an on-the-day performer, and Gastelum is clearly the second.
David: There are so many interlocking pieces to MMA that Gastelum shouldn't be taking the Allen Iverson route to gym time. He's not there yet, which has always kind of concerned me. Anyway, Gastelum's jab is probably his best punch. He throws it aggressively too, which is relatively rare in MMA. A lot of fighters jab to defend, or jab to gauge distance. Kelvin jabs to wound. His only problem is that his inexperience limits the rhythm of his boxing; sometimes the matchup makes him uncertain about how often he should throw it, and it screws him up. At 24 years of age, he's got time to build his game around his best weapon. He's good everywhere else, which is what makes his development an important part of his potential; he reminds of a less frantic Diego Sanchez on the ground.
Phil: Neil Magny is well-rounded to a fault. At a gangly 6'3, he fights long off a disrupting jab and pawing overhand right. In close he tends to eschew the double collar and traditional MT of some lanky fighters, and is a little more focused on the outside reaps and body-lock takedowns of an early Jon Jones. His best skillset is probably in his ground and pound, where his accurate, straight strikes are particularly great at slicing through guards, particularly from the postured mount or stacked positions. Good in all areas, then, but his problem remains that he fights opponents wherever they want. Grapple with him, strike with him, Magny will be happy to oblige. Like a worrying amount of his teammates at Team Elevation, Magny also tends to give his back in scrambles as he gets to his feet. It might not be a good look against a predatory back-take finisher like Gastelum.
David: Magny has a calm and collected manner of pugilism. He's active, but not aggressive, efficient, but not violent. If I discovered that he knew pre-Classical Sanskrit, I probably wouldn't be surprised. As you pointed out, he has a classic case of Tyson Griffin syndrome; not urgent enough at critical moments to reverse momentum. At the same time, he has a mild case of it. Unlike Griffin, Magny moves forward with proficiency. His striking looks like the work of a bookworm; a fighter with the body of an athlete, but not the volition of one. His striking is well educated, which is why he's quietly one of the most interesting fighters to watch in the division.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Magny's jab gets a lot of attention, and it's a good one, but it's still mostly a set-up for his right, which is his real money punch. The way he sets up a chopping right with the disrupting left is a little reminiscent of Tommy Hearns. Although he was clearly out of sorts, Gastelum showed a surprising vulnerability to the right in his match with Tyron Woodley.
David: I thought Gastelum showed way more vulnerability in the Rick Story fight. He got dropped as hard as I've seen a fighter get dropped without losing the awake switch, and didn't even really adjust after it happened. That fight was a long time ago, which makes it more concerning; he was a lot younger, and still hasn't cleaned that part of his flail away during the recovery bit.
Phil: Magny's on short notice... but he almost always is. The real X-factor is Gastelum's camp switch to King's MMA. This should be a great move for him, as they specialize in a straight left / left body kick combination and an overarching focus on measured aggression which should fit amazingly well with his game. In addition, he's been working with George Lockhart, the nutritionist. If either of these changes have taken, we should see a completely different Gastelum.
David: True that.
Phil: Magny is one of those fighters who may well blossom given five rounds. However, he's also shown a tendency to concede where fights will be fought. Gastelum is going to try to put him into the fence, pressure with strikes, work takedowns, and attempt to take his back. If Magny can get his game rolling, his huge reach advantage, good pace, and historically superior cardio may be able to turn the tide, but Kelvin Gastelum by submission, round 3.
David: The King's MMA factor is the only reason I'm picking Kelvin. It's also really critical, given his age. This is when these new habits and methods more radically become muscle memory. Magny has the tools to beat Kelvin, but I don't think he has the strength to avoid a scramble at some point. Kelvin Gastelum by RNC, round 4.