Alexander ‘The Mauler’ Gustafsson is in a unique position.
Despite him holding the second spot in the UFC’s rankings, his last three losses have come against the three best fighters in the light heavyweight division at the moment–Daniel Cormier, Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson and Jon ‘Bones’ Jones
While nobody would argue with Gustafsson’s place among the bracket’s elite fighters after he forced Cormier and Jones to agonizingly close decisions, it doesn’t quite make sense for him to step up and face one of the top three as both Johnson and Jones expect title dates in their next bouts.
UFC announced that the Swede would face Antônio Rogério Nogueira at UFC Fight Night 100 in Sao Paulo during Saturday’s broadcast from Brasilia. The Brazilian currently holds the tenth spot in the promotion’s rankings. He has gone 5-4 since debuting under the banner and is coming off a first round knockout victory over Pat Cummins.
The questions about Gustafsson’s motivation that hung heavily over his meeting with Jan Błachowicz have been quelled slightly given how quickly he is turning around from his UFC Hamburg bout.
Having only fought three rounds against the Pole at the beginning of the month, the All Stars frontrunner is showing an enthusiasm for competition again after spending 11 months on the sidelines after his loss to Cormier at UFC 192.
The Queue for Cormier
Anthony Johnson has been vying for a rematch with Daniel Cormier ever since the former Olympian stepped in for the suspended Jon Jones at UFC 187. Cormier’s grappling prowess resulted in a one-sided performance that he finished with a rear naked choke in the third round.
Another suspension forced Jones from his own rematch with Cormier at UFC 200 and even though the suspended interim champion promised that he would be back in the Octagon “really soon” in mid-August, the MMA world are still none the wiser as to when ‘Bones’ will return.
‘Rumble’ called Cormier’s name as soon as he ended Glover Teixeira's night in 13 seconds last month. While things were amicable between the two at that stage, Cormier’s refusal to fight the colossal Blackzillian’s fighter at UFC 205 led to some interesting back and forth between the two on Twitter.
Cormier later revealed that commentary commitments would not allow him to compete on the landmark card in Madison Square Garden, and instead suggested that the two should meet at UFC 207 at the end of December.
Just when we thought Jones had effectively ruled himself out of the title picture with his suspension, Dana White then suggested that the suspended star could face Johnson for his interim title while Cormier focuses on his other commitments. However, since then, Cormier has dismissed the president’s claims.
Regardless of what order the bouts occur in, Johnson and Jones seem like dead certs to get the next two shots at the light-heavyweight title. Instead of sitting around, Gustafsson is making the right choice to stay active and prove his worth in the bracket.
Finding The Mauler’s Mojo
Let’s be honest, the eleven months between Gustafsson’s bout with Cormier and his win over Błachowicz left us wondering whether the Swede would ever return to his former glories. His performance at UFC Hamburg, although masterful in its own right, certainly didn’t turn the heads of the fans in the same manner that his decision losses to Jones and Cormier did.
The interesting thing about the All Stars fighter is his ability to rise to the occasion. Throughout his career he has claimed wins a lot of people had completely written him out of.
Even before he proved his elite standing against Jones, there were many who thought the Swede had absolutely no chance of beating former champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. Yet, when the two finally clashed nobody argued when Gustafsson’s hand was raised in Seattle.
Błachowicz and Nogueira certainly aren’t gatekeepers to the championship conversation at light heavyweight, but they are a way to test Gustafsson on route to him returning to the top of the bracket. Should the towering Scandinavian have his hand raised on November 19, I wouldn’t be too surprised if he gets matched with another fighter toward the back of the rankings as either Jones or Johnson have their crack at the belt and whoever holds it at that stage.
For years it seemed that Gustafsson’s first bout with Jones would always make him a relevant fight for the controversial star. Right now, Gustafsson may be further away from the rematch than ever before, but it would be a real shame if the people never got to see it again.
He remains the person who came closest to beating Jones, and if the interim champions keeps up his inflammatory behavior, there will be plenty of people calling to see Gustafsson endeavor to the same thing he did back in September 2013.
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