Though he didn’t win the UFC middleweight championship in his last bout, Kelvin Gastelum’s performance in a narrow decision loss to Israel Adesanya in April in one of the great fights of the year proved that if nothing else, Gastelum is a legitimate BMF.
Now, it’s Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal who are going to meet on Saturday in the main event of UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, PPV) for the Diaz-inspired BMF, or Baddest Mother[expletive], belt.
Gastelum proved to be one of the scariest BMFs one may ever find during that loss to Adesanya. The proof positive, for those who somehow haven’t seen the compelling back-and-forth battle, is all the fighters who called Gastelum out in the aftermath of that bout.
The one who got him is Darren Till, who is moving up from welterweight after consecutive losses to Tyron Woodley and Masvidal to face Gastelum at middleweight in the co-main event.
The Till bout doesn’t seem to do much for Gastelum, who is ranked fourth at middleweight. Till is ninth at welterweight and coming off back-to-back defeats.
But Gastelum has plenty of motivation to fight, not the least of which was his failure to so much as make it to the weigh-in at UFC 205 in New York when he was supposed to meet Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in a welterweight bout.
That failure led to his move to middleweight, where he’s carved a big reputation with a win over former champion and UFC Hall of Famer Michael Bisping as well as over Jacare Souza.
The loss to Adesanya in what will probably be the Fight of the Year did a lot for his reputation, as well. But Gastelum needs no extra motivation.
“I’ve come to New York with a lot on my mind,” Gastelum said. “A few years ago, I was supposed to fight Cowboy and I didn’t make it. This is a place so many fighters want to come to to compete and I didn’t do it. There are a lot of motivations for me. I’m looking to go out and make a statement in this fight, both to give the New York fans a show they didn’t get but also for my own, personal reasons.
“Till is the guy and that’s fine; it’s just too bad he’s the guy in my way. When we’re locked in that cage, it’s going to be a real fight.”
Gastelum is looking to put himself back into position for a rematch with Adesanya. Though his teammate, Henry Cejudo, told TMZ earlier this year that Gastelum had a staph infection and that he wasn’t anywhere close to 100 percent when he fought Adesanya, Gastelum didn’t want to go down that path with Yahoo Sports.
He said fighters are rarely at 100 percent when they compete and had nothing but compliments for Adesanya.
“I was expecting a war, although I was thinking I was going to go in there and overwhelm him with my power,” Gastelum said. “But he was a lot more durable than I’d given him credit for being before. Man, he gained my respect after that fight.
“We both leveled up. He did just as I did. I feel like there’s a bond that will never be broken and I have a lot of respect for him.”
Gastelum said he has a lot of respect for both Diaz and Masvidal as fighters, but has mixed feelings about the belt.
UFC president Dana White created a belt specifically for this match that he and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will unveil Friday in New York. Johnson will put the belt around the waist of the winner on Saturday.
Though the BMF is supposed to be a one-off, even if it’s not, Gastelum isn’t all that interested in fighting for it.
“Before I was a UFC fighter, I was a UFC fan and I get the promotional side of it,” he said. “It’s really cool from a fan’s standpoint, I think, and I love the promotion behind it. From a competitor’s standpoint, I just don’t know. I go, ‘So we’re making up belts now?’ You want to win a belt because of the history and the prestige it has and who had it before, and this is something that doesn’t make sense. These are two guys who have over 20 losses combined and so it’s not a real thing.
“I love it from a fan’s standpoint but I don’t really think that much about it as an athlete. I’m focused on winning my fights and getting myself back to a title shot.”
More from Yahoo Sports: