Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Kelvin Gastelum (11-1) started his mixed martial arts career going undefeated for ten fights until he lost his first bout this January by split decision against Tyron Woodley.
Much of the credit for his success inside the octagon goes to his mother, Patricia Encinas. The Mexican-born mom worked plenty of jobs in an effort to support the family, and she passed her work ethic along to Gastelum.
“My mom was a single mother, working three to four jobs,” Gastelum told Fox News Latino recently. “She would take a bunch of crazy, grimy jobs at first, then she got into the restaurant business. Then she started to manage restaurants. She was also a chef for a long time. She did a lot in the restaurant business.”
Born in Yuma, Arizona, Gastelum is returning to his mother’s native land for UFC Fight Night 78 at the Monterrey Arena in Monterrey, Mexico. He fights Neil Magny (16-4) in the main event, which also serves as the finale of "The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 2" and airs on Fox Sports 1 on Saturday.
Gastelum, currently ranked No. 15 by the UFC in the welterweight division, was one of the coaches on the show, on which he worked with eight aspiring Latin fighters. He believes that that same work ethic that has fueled his success can be spotted in most Hispanics. That’s why he took offense when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump began making comments critical of Mexicans and immigrants.
SHOWTIME's Espinoza On MMA Opportunities
Miguel Cotto prepares for 'Canelo' Alvarez
Wrestler with one leg conquers the mat to inspire others
Special bond unites MMA challenger Luis Palomino and his Brazilian capoeira coach
Floyd Mayweather Jr. Vs. Canelo Alvarez - The Media Spectacle
Cotto-Alvarez fight, unlike Mayweather-Pacquiao, actually may be worth price tag
The Benefits of MMA Fighting
“Immigrants from Mexico do the jobs no one else wants to do,” he said in an interview, “That makes this place go around. They take jobs that we really need. It's ignorance, I think, [that makes Trump say those things].”
Gastelum started his mixed martial arts career at age 17 in Mexico, in the city of Mexicali. The venue was connected to a strip bar. He was offered a $250 paycheck in a fight he accepted on only two-days' notice.
“I remember warming up, hitting the pads," Gastelum said, "and staff came to the room and said I had to get out, because this person is coming with a lady. 'And, you know, who knows what they're going to do?'”
He went on, “I had to go outside to warm up. When I went to fight, I had to go in the actual club to get to the arena. It was different, because I am walking through the strip club ... I was 17. I am trying to focus on fighting. I am literally walking to the arena and seeing all these naked women. I got an arm bar [and won] in three minutes. That’s when I fell in love with the sport.”
Since then, Gastelum, now all of 24, has been a force to be reckon with in the sport. He won The Ultimate Fighter 17 in 2013. He has also served as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter Latin America 2 and has been flying all over South America educating natives of the sport by making television appearances.
“I never thought about doing television,” said Gastelum, who worked as a bondsman for two years before becoming a full-time MMA fighter. “The more I've done it, the more I’ve been getting comfortable with it. It’s new to me, but I have been working on it. Before, I would hide from cameras – now I’ve learned to deal with the attention.”
As for Saturday's fight, his opponent Magny – a last-minute substitute for Matt Brown, who was forced to drop out because of injury – is coming off a victory against Erick Silva in August, while Gastelum defeated Nate Marquardt back in June.
Gastelum says he is in the best physical condition he's ever been in. He changed camps and is now training in California at King’s MMA, home to heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum and other top fighters, and has enjoyed the support from a nutritionist provided by the UFC.
“I got a nutritionist working for me,” he said. “He is buying my groceries and cooking my meals. It’s one less thing I need to worry about ... My weight cut is way ahead of schedule.”
Meanwhile, his mother’s hard work paid off in another important way: She recently opened a restaurant in Yuma serving tacos and hot dogs that's named after her son. In a hopeful sort of way. It's called "El Campeón" – The Champion.
“I haven’t been there yet,” Gastelum said. “But after the fight, I want to go.”