Kelvin Gastelum has seen both sides of Johny Hendricks. The 22-year-old winner of Season 17 of "The Ultimate Fighter," trained in Montreal at the TriStar Gym with then-UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre late last year.
St-Pierre was preparing to defend his title against Hendricks at UFC 167 and brought Gastelum in as one of his training partners.
Gastelum, who faces Rick "Horror" Story on Saturday at UFC 171 in Dallas at the American Airlines Center, got a first-hand look at what made St-Pierre so great.
Gastelum was preparing for his own fight, a December match against Court McGee that was canceled when Gastelum injured a knee.
When Gastelum recovered, the UFC granted his wish and paired him against Story at UFC 171. And when he set up his camp for the Story fight, he found himself training in Dallas with Hendricks at Team Takedown.
Hendricks will meet Robbie Lawler in Saturday's main event for the welterweight title that St-Pierre vacated.
Gastelum thus probably knows Hendricks as well as anyone not in Hendricks' inner circle, given that he saw St-Pierre prepare for a title defense against Hendricks, then helped Hendricks prepare for a title bout against Lawler.
Two things stuck out in Gastelum's mind about St-Pierre and Hendricks, the man poised to succeed him as the UFC champion.
"There is not much of a difference between them, to be honest with you," Gastelum said. "Both of them have incomparable work ethics. They just bust their butts hour after hour, day after day. They don't coast through anything. They push, push and push and really try to get everything they can out of each session.
"They're also very smart. They understand the sport and they understand technically what they need to do. They have a very good understanding of what they want to accomplish and what they think their opponent is trying to accomplish."
Gastelum called Hendricks "a very cool guy, the same guy you see on camera," and said, "he's smiling all the time and enjoys what he does."
Curiously, Story trained for Gastelum at TriStar, but Gastelum laughs off any suggestion that Story may somehow have gained insider information on him.
He said he doesn't think it will make a difference.
"That's a great camp up there and they do things the right way," Gastelum said. "But I think that's true of all the big, dominant camps out there. It's great training is really what it is and nothing more."
Gastelum is 7-0 as a pro, unexpectedly defeating Uriah Hall to win the 'TUF' title and then defeating Brian Melancon in Indianapolis on Aug. 28, 2013.
Story has 14 fights in the UFC, twice the number of Gastelum's career total, and has 23 fights overall.
Though Story, who in 2010 handed Hendricks his first career defeat, has much more experience, Gastelum is undeterred. He called him out because he wants to move up in the business as quickly as possible.
Training with elite fighters like St-Pierre and Hendricks helped, and Gastelum hopes to use that as a springboard to a win over Story and bigger things ahead.
"I wanted this fight because Rick is a tough guy who has a good record and has beaten good people and he's highly ranked," Gastelum said. "But it's a fight I can win. It's a risk, but I'm in this sport to be the best and sometimes when you want to be the best, you have to take these kinds of fights.
"I don't want to face lower competition or guys everyone expects me to beat. I don't get better that way and what do I gain from it? If I beat a guy who is highly ranked, that means something and it keeps pushing me up the ladder to where I want to be."
Gastelum, who became the first fighter chosen last on 'TUF' to win his season, can use some of the experience he gained by working with St-Pierre and Hendricks to get him past Story.
The thing he hasn't forgotten is how eager they always were for extra work.
"They go the extra mile every day and they never look for the easy way out or cut corners," Gastelum said. "To me, that's what it's all about. I got a chance to see what it takes to be a champion and that's how I want to approach my training every time now."
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