UFC 236: How NZ's Israel Adesanya can beat Kelvin Gastelum in Atlanta

Kelvin Gastelum has a clear path to victory against Israel Adesanya in their interim middleweight world title fight at UFC 236 on Sunday (NZ time), but it's one that could just as quickly lead to his own downfall, according to expert analyst Mike Angove.

The former world-champion kickboxer, turned commentator, believes the onus will be on Gastelum to be the aggressor to negate Adesanya's significant height and reach advantage, a tactic that could spell disaster against the Kiwi's precision counter-striking.

"Gastelum has to come in and bridge the gap," Angove told Newshub's Fight Club podcast. "That makes it much more dangerous for him in terms of doubling the impact and walking on to a fighter who has his art form down to not even millimetres, but micrometres."

At 1.93m (6ft 4in) tall, Adesanya is well versed at utilising his length to keep his opponents at bay and dissecting them with accurate shots - both feet and fists - from the outside.

Gastelum - Adesanya's fourth consecutive southpaw opponent - packs plenty of power in his shots, but getting close enough to land them cleanly is an entirely different proposition, said Angove.

"We know he's going to bring the heat - he's heavy hitting, but he's a lot shorter and he's going to encounter that range."

Gastelum entered the UFC with a predominantly wrestling-based style, built on his years as a high school state champion in his native Arizona. He's since developed into a highly capable and technical boxer, to which his six knockout finishes attest.

But Adesanya's abilities on the feet are on a level Gastelum has yet to encounter in his seven-year UFC tenure and it's an area where 'The Last Stylebender' will have a significant edge.

tale of the tape
Photo credit: Newshub.

Adesanya has a daunting 22cm (8.5in) and 18cm (7in) advantage in reach and height respectively, and for that reason, Angove expects Gastelum will turn to his wrestling prowess out of pure necessity.

"He has to threaten the takedown, otherwise his only chance is to hit and hope.

"He actually needs to take [Adesanya] down, open space, and try to establish himself on top and use his wrestling to keep him down.

Angove doing what he does best from ringside.
Angove doing what he does best from ringside. Photo credit: Photosport

"The other factor with Gastelum is, if he's threatening the takedown and getting a reaction to that threat, then it's an opportunity for him to come over the top with his hands and with four-ounce gloves, anything can happen."

That's been the default tactic against 'The Last Stylebender' - try to lure him into a grappling contest to negate his effectiveness on his feet - but that's proven much easier said than done.

"How is [Gastelum] going to string together takedowns? Because the first one or two are probably going to be defended.

"He has to use that wrestling to get him to the cage, but even then, Adesanya's defence on the cage is very, very good."

Angove can vouch first-hand for Adesanya's ever-improving all-round game. He's been at the Kiwi's side since his early steps into professional fighting, and has been a long-time mentor and even occasional sparring partner for the prodigy at their base at Auckland's City Kickboxing gym.

He was in Adesanya's corner during the milestone win over Brazilian great Anderson Silva and has been heavily involved in his fight camp planning.

UFC 236: How NZ's Israel Adesanya can beat Kelvin Gastelum in Atlanta

Angove says that Gastelum's early takedown attempts will provide a clear and immediate indication of the bout's outcome, and potentially expose the Kiwi's relatively untested ground game.

Gastelum's wrestling pedigree and previous submission finishes suggest he'd have the upper hand if the fight went to the mat, though Adesanya has been vocal about his willingness to showcase his unheralded grappling skills.

"Will Adesanya be able to stand up, and will his gas tank stand up and still be able to deliver that high quality of striking output? If he's unable to do that and starts to fatigue, then the tables turn towards the ground fighter who has heavy hands.

"I can tell you that his gas tank - from watching and programming his training - is pretty damn good, but we haven’t had that answered yet and those wrestling fans will always point to that."

On the flipside of that coin, if Adesanya can stifle that threat, and is allowed to stand and fight his trademark fight, then Angove predicts we could see a rather one-sided contest in Atlanta.

"If Adesanya is able to establish range, keep Gastelum on the outside and punish him when he comes on the inside, then it's going to be a long, long night for Gastelum.

"He's just going to sustain punishment, walk into it, and get broken down and stopped mid to late in the fight."

Another deciding factor in Angove's eyes lies in Adesanya's exceptional fight IQ, which allows him to make adjustments during the heat of battle according to what his opponent's offering.

Angove sees that innate ability as key to Adesanya clinching New Zealand's first-ever UFC title.

"You saw him adapt and show a different style against Silva and, at this point for mine, Adesanya has that in his back pocket against a guy like Gastelum. And you've got to remember, he hasn’t shown all of his looks yet."

Join us for live updates of Adesanya vs Gastelum at UFC 236 from 3pm Sunday