On Saturday, the UFC’s Octagon is set to return to Stockholm, Sweden for UFC Fight Night 153. In the main event, Sweden’s favorite son, Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson will take on Anthony “Lionheart” Smith in a battle of light heavyweight contenders.
For a high-level fighter, specifically an international fighter, headlining an event in one’s home country is a dream-like scenario. Gustafsson, a long-time contender at 205 pounds, has been lucky enough to do it three times throughout his UFC career thus far.
UFC on FOX 14
On January 24, 2015, UFC on FOX 14 took place live from the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. The main event featured a pivotal 205-pound contest between two of the division’s best in Gustafsson and former multi-time title challenger Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
At the time, The Mauler had won seven of his previous eight bouts with the only loss in that stretch coming against Jon Jones in a five-round war. In addition, five of those victories had come by way of stoppage and Gustafsson was riding high.
Headlining his second UFC event in his home country, this was supposed to be another shining moment for The Mauler. However, it didn’t end up that way. In fact, Gustafsson suffered one of the most brutal losses of his career in front of 30,000 of his countrymen.
Just over two minutes into the very first round, Rumble, who had The Mauler backpedaling, began to unload a barrage of big shots and connected with multiple uppercuts and hooks. Those shots sent Gustafsson stumbling to the mat and with his face down, he ate a few more shots before the referee stepped in.
In the end, Johnson had his hand raised in what turned out to be quite a disappointing night for the 32-year-old Swede. Luckily for Gustafsson, life often offers second chances.
Righting A Wrong
Following the loss to Johnson, Gustafsson spent the next eight months on the sidelines. His next fight would end up being a title shot against then-champion Daniel Cormier, but there’s no doubt that the loss to “Rumble” stung.
After suffering a split-decision loss to Cormier, however, Gustafsson got back to his winning ways. He won back-to-back fights over the likes of Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira. The win over Teixeira, a spectacular fifth-round knockout victory, came in Sweden and gave Gustafsson the opportunity to right a wrong in front of his home country.
Most recently, The Mauler suffered a one-sided stoppage defeat in a title fight rematch against Jones last December. Similarly, Smith is also coming off of a loss to Jones that took place this past March. Because of that, a lot is on the line for both men in this bout.
Gustafsson, however, is particularly in a unique position. He’s fought for the 205-pound title three times throughout his career, losing each bid and losing twice to Jones. Despite the division being quite thin, it’ll take a lot for Gustafsson to earn another crack at “Bones,” should he remain the champion.
What’s At Stake
With that being said, however, a loss here would be extremely detrimental to him. Despite his lack of success in title fights, The Mauler has always maintained a status. This is the status of a high-level fighter who has just seemed to come up short against the division’s elite.
And while Smith is coming off of a title shot, his loss to Jones was incredibly one-sided. In addition, he’s only been competing at light heavyweight for a year. If Gustafsson wants to remain atop the division, this is the type of fight he needs to win.
Because of that, this weekend stands out as quite an important one for The Mauler. Not only will he once again be looking to perform well in front of his home country, but he’ll be looking to make a statement against a fellow contender.
And if he comes up short, perhaps that would be a sign that the end of the road is near. If Gustafsson can no longer compete against the division’s up-and-coming talent, his quest back to the top will become even more difficult.
Ultimately, a lot is at stake for Gustafsson against Smith. If he comes up short, it could be reminiscent of UFC on FOX 14. If he comes out on top, however, it could be a special moment and perhaps one that paints a picture of what his future may look like.
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