In a year that already has proved to be massive for the UFC, with one major card after another, UFC 205 on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York looks to be the biggest and most important of them all. In honor of such a marquee event, ESPN.com is providing dedicated previews to all 13 bouts on the card, breaking down what's at stake and projecting who will win, along with quotes and statistics for each fighter.
Welterweights: Kelvin Gastelum (12-2) versus Donald Cerrone (31-7)
Odds as of Nov. 5: Gastelum +140; Cerrone -160
Dana White's thoughts
"If you look at the rankings, the fight made sense. I wanted to keep 'Cowboy' [Cerrone] on that New York card after the Robbie Lawler fight fell off. God, I wanted that fight with Lawler so bad. Such a great fight, but what are you going to do? Kelvin was the next-best choice for 'Cowboy,' behind Lawler, and it made sense in the rankings. Cerrone is a 170-pounder, 100 percent. He looks great at that weight."
What's at stake?
Cerrone willing to be the face of a fighters' union
Times are changing in mixed martial arts, and Cerrone says he thinks fighters need to change with it.
In July, the UFC announced it had sold for $4 billion to entertainment agency WME-IMG. That announcement rocked the MMA landscape and is sure to bring on a new era with its business model.
Cerrone, 33, is approaching his 23rd fight in the UFC, which is rather amazing considering he has been on its roster since 2011. And with a major fight approaching on an event that is sure to grab mainstream attention, Cerrone is taking the opportunity to publicly call for a fighters' union.
"Remember, 'Cowboy' is pro-[Donald] Trump and pro-union -- so, make sure you put that in there," Cerrone said at the end of an interview. "When fighters talk about this union, they're concerned that, 'Oh man, if I speak up, the UFC is going to bench me or cut me.' I'm not not afraid of that. We need a union.
"And I'm not just saying fighters need to get paid more. We need dental care, medical, retirement -- there's so much more involved with a union, and we are one of the only sports that doesn't have it. NFL, NHL, NBA -- all of them have unions except for us. Someone needs to stand up and be the face of this, and I'm not scared to do it."
There have been several efforts to organize mixed martial arts into a collective group. One in particular, the Professional Fighters Association, is in the process of collecting signed authorization cards to represent UFC athletes. Cerrone said he has not thrown his support behind one specific effort yet.
"I think speaking out publicly is definitely the first step," Cerrone said. "We're very close I think. With the UFC sale and now this new era of ownership, this is the right time. Absolutely the right time for this."
With Lawler out, Gastelum catches career opportunity
After defeating former champion Johny Hendricks at UFC 200 in July, Gastelum was certain he'd set himself up for a high-profile fight.
Gastelum admits he was disappointed when the UFC offered him Jorge Masvidal on Nov. 5 in Mexico City.
Gastelum, 25, accepted the bout but says it would have been the first time in his career he wasn't motivated to compete. That's nothing against Masvidal. In fact, Gastelum knows how good Masvidal is -- and that was part of the problem. Gastelum was looking at a challenging fight with no real payoff if he won; the event would likely be overshadowed by UFC 205.
"When I got Masvidal, it was kind of a letdown," Gastelum said. "I knew it was a hard fight. It was a lot of work -- I would have gone to Mexico for a month to train at altitude, for an opponent that's not even going to put me in title contention. It wasn't what I wanted, but I feel like I should be up to fight anybody, anywhere, any time. So, I took it."
In September, Lawler was forced to pull out of UFC 205, which left Cerrone without an opponent. Gastelum said he called president Dana White the second news reached him.
Now, Gastelum is looking at a fight he believes could push him into a title fight -- possibly against the current champion Tyron Woodley, whom Gastelum lost to in January 2015.
"Every fight has felt like the next biggest fight of my life," Gastelum said. "I think I've raised the bar for myself every year and will continue to do so. To be honest, I'd love to fight Woodley in a rematch. I guess I can only hope he beats [Stephen Thompson], but I kind of think Thompson takes that."
Cerrone: 31-7 record (18-4 UFC); 18 wins is tied for third most in UFC history
Cerrone: 3-fight win streak since moving to welterweight
Gastelum: 12-2 record (7-2 UFC); 2-2 in past 4 fights
Gastelum: 66 percent significant strike defense, third highest among active UFC welterweights
Cerrone's professional MMA career hit the 10-year mark in 2016, and if you go back through the past decade, he has only lost to the very top of the lightweight division.
Gastelum is a difficult fight to handicap; he's definitely not a lightweight. The verdict is still somewhat out on whether he's even a welterweight. The 25-year-old is just a heavy body out there in this division. He's built like a tank but one that still moves very well.
Cerrone's best weapon was his body kick in his last fight against another bullish, strong welterweight in Rick Story. Minutes in, Cerrone had basically removed Story's will to fight. Those kicks to the body froze Story and turned him into a stationary target for one of the best finishing sequences of the year. There's a chance Cerrone could do something similar to Gastelum, although Gastelum mixes his range better, which will make it more challenging.
Prediction: Gastelum by second-round TKO.