Kelvin Gastelum showed up ready to fight on Saturday at UFC 234 in Melbourne, Australia. Defending champion Robert Whittaker, who pulled out hours before due to hernia surgery in his abdomen, did not. According to Gastelum (15-3, 1 NC), that’s enough to crown him the new 185-pound champion of the world. 

“This is my belt, I earned this,” Gastelum said Saturday at Rod Laver Arena with the UFC belt draped over his shoulder. “I showed up and traveled thousands and thousands of miles from home. I made the weight. In my world, in the wrestling world, if a guy shows up and makes the weight and for some reason wants cancel the bout? The guy forfeits the match and I win. I am the champion.”

Gastelum, 27, said he first heard the news at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning when UFC officials knocked on the door of his hotel room. The former “The Ultimate Fighter” middleweight tournament winner said there was never discussion of him facing a last-minute opponent because Whittaker’s withdrawal came after Friday’s weigh-in. 

“I started to cry when they told me. All I could think of was waking at 5 a.m. to go do sprints and all the training and all the ass whooping that I took this entire camp. This kind of training takes years away from your life, I feel like. This was the hardest camp in my life, and for them to take this away from me, that ain’t going to happen. I’m not going to come home empty-handed and I made a promise to my people with some hardware. Here I am, I am going to go home with the belt.

“I spent over $50,000 in this camp and that’s a lot of money but [UFC president] Dana [White] said he is going take care of me so it’s all good.”

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With the main event scrapped on short notice, the scheduled co-main event featuring rising star Israel Adesanya against legendary former champion Anderson Silva was elevated to a three-round main event following. 

“I’m going to be watching that Israel-Anderson fight and they are the ones who are next in line,” Gastelum said. “Hopefully Rob heals up great and I wish him a speedy recovery. Then, after he heals up, I’ll give him a crack at my title.”

Gastelum revealed that he battled with a staph infection during fight week but said that “none of that was going to keep me away from fighting.” 

As far as his future plans, Gastelum said it’s up to the UFC whether they want to book him a second time against Whittaker or go forward with him facing the winner of Adesanya-Silva. 

“I earned [the title], I earned this,” Gastelum said. “I showed up and made weight for the fight. He forfeits and I”m the world champ.”

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