When Alexander Gustafsson knocked out Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC 141, it opened my eyes about him possibly being a title contender within the next three years. It was the first time; I really started to think that we might possibly see him face Jones one day. He always had the tall & lanky look with vicious knockout power. Then he convincingly beat Thiago Silva and Mauricio “Shogun Rua” in 2012 to continue making an impression on everyone. Everyone was always enamored with his size, yet it was his array of different striking techniques is what impressed me the most.
Similar to Jon Jones, he was very unpredictable whether it was throwing constant jabs to set up a hook or looking for knees in the clinch. He started to pick up momentum and was headed into a fight in April against Gegard Mousasi. Of course, we all know how that ended up with the eye injury. It would have been a real test for him compared to his past opponents. One of my main issues with Gustafsson was his competition, which was filled with fighters that can be considered past their prime at the time. It’s not necessarily his fault, but it started to become a Chris Weidman situation. How can you truly believe in a fighter beating a dominant champion, when they haven’t beaten the best competition? Similar to Weidman, he took the fight to the champion and his stock soared through the roof.
What stood out to me the most was easily his takedown defense. That was one of the main concerns going into the fight. We’ve seen Jones manhandle top wrestlers, such as Chael Sonnen and Matt Hamill. His takedowns were so ineffective to the point, where Gustafsson was throwing him into the cage. This fight goes to show you that size can truly matter. That doesn’t take away Gustafsson’s hard work to improve on his takedown defense, because you clearly saw the improvement. His work with Phil Davis at Alliance Training Center paid off in dividends. Other than one takedown in the fifth round, Gustafsson was perfect for the night.
I’ll always admit to my mistakes from pre-fight predictions, especially with this fight. The hype around the fight seemed very sketchy to me basically building Gustafsson up as a threat because of his size. They didn’t promote his actual skills. My feeling going into the fight was that there wasn’t much hope that he could actually challenge Jones, due to his tendency of leaning too forward with his boxing and questionable grappling. I’ve repeatedly said that Daniel Cormier would be the only light heavyweight (if he makes the weight cut) that can defeat Jones. I couldn’t have been more wrong after last night.
There wasn’t any hesitance from Gustafsson, when the bell rang. We didn’t see any feeling out process, which was somewhat surprising. It was Gustafsson landing some clean jabs, while frustrating Jones with his movement. His footwork looked as good as it ever did. The way he avoided Jones’ clinch and didn’t get hit with any knees until the fourth round was also remarkable. We’ve seen how elusive he can be in past fights, but for him to do that against an athletic freak like Jones was unbelievable.
Another major element in Gustafsson’s success was his cardio, until at least the fifth round. After re-watching his fights with Silva and Shogun this past week, I noticed he started to fatigue in the third round of both fights. That was another factor in deciding that he wasn’t going to last against Jones’ non-stop pace. Once again, he proved me wrong and was fighting at a high pace for the first four rounds. It was Jones, who was feeling timid and spitting out blood. He used his reach to pick apart Jones at times and never let Jones get comfortable.
I’m not sure what his exact game plan was, but it was perfectly executed. Could his defense been better in the latter rounds? Of course it could have, especially with Jones landing that left high kick at will. When do you ever see a left high kick landed consistently in a fight? Gustafsson’s still has some work to do there, even though he did catch some of Jones’ kicks early on and threw him down to the ground. It was surreal to see someone not only take down Jones, but also to see Jones thrown down to the ground after getting one of his kicks caught.
The perception of Gustafsson was that he was somewhat of a “hype machine” that the UFC was building up rather than him actually possessing the attributes to be a champion. That perception has been shredded and everyone knows that he can now fight at the highest level. Although his size was clearly a game-changer in this fight, he showed that he could be just as well rounded as Jones when it comes to being a mixed martial artist.
Some people may be critical of the judging, which is understandable. Whoever judged the fight and gave it a score of 49-46 should be ashamed of themselves. It was 48-47 for Jones, who clearly won the last two rounds. Also I gave him the second round for landing more effective strikes in that round. People may disagree, but leg kicks do matter and Jones showed how valuable that can be. He was using his patented oblique kick at times, which is almost impossible to defend. The only round Gustafsson decisively won was the first round.
That being said, he has nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody predicted him to win in this fight, as he was one of the biggest underdogs in a long time. Jon Jones has dominated just about every fighter they have put up against him, whether it was a former champion or decorated wrestler. Why should believe in Gustafsson when he’s neither of those things and has only beaten one former champion? He is an enigma that hadn’t shown all the tools he had. Those tools included quicker hand speed than Jones and an iron chin that nobody ever really saw from his past fights. Also you couldn’t help but smile when Gustafsson started to try spinning back elbows.
Does this fight deserve a rematch? The fact that it went to a close decision and people have labeled this as possibly the greatest fight in light heavyweight history makes me think it deserves a rematch. I’d love to see Gustafsson improve his cardio even more, while Jones clearly needs to work on his boxing some more. It would be intriguing to see who would get the upper hand in wrestling, after Gustafsson proved to be a worthy opponent. They could have the rematch, while Glover Teixeira and Daniel Cormier can fight for the number one contender slot.
We can look back at this fight and be mesmerized by the five rounds of intense action. Even though he didn’t get the career-defining knockout victory like Weidman did, Gustafsson will be just as popular as him. This was a fight that people will be talking about for years to come, from the dichotomy of their size and reach to the last round of both fighters throwing everything they have left. Welcome to the big time Alexander Gustafsson, you are in a class of your own right now.