MCGRATH: The last chance for Alexander Gustafsson

David McGrath MMATorch Contributor

Dec 29, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Alexander Gustafsson (blue gloves) after his loss to Jon Jones (red gloves) during UFC 232 at The Forum. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine you had one amazing day on your job. Imagine you’re on a sales team, and your team went up against the best team in the country. You hung in there, you were scrappy, hell you almost beat that dominant team!


Imagine you lived off that for years. You had every opportunity to go back and beat that team again, and teams like them. Imagine you had a second chance against that team when they did not take you lightly or have outside distractions, and they wiped the floor with you.

That is the world that UFC light heavyweight Alexander Gustaffson currently inhabits.

Gustaffson has been living off his close call, all-time type fight against Jon Jones for 6 years.

Remember back to UFC 167. Everybody believed Jones, the greatest fighter of his generation was going to win and win easily against his unheralded foe Gustaffson.

There was zero juice for that fight, people believed that it was a layup win for the light heavyweight king. What we didn’t count on is that Jon Jones believed that too.

Jones has readily admitted he did not train, and used recreational drugs in the lead up to the fight.

Jones got everything he could handle that night in Vancouver.

In my judging, Gustaffson won the fight 49-48 in the closest of close decisions. It was a masterpiece of a fight. A battle of wills between dominant champion and formidable, unheralded foe.

Unfortunately for Gustaffson, he lost a tight split decision. Jones called him his greatest challenge yet, and his career was off to the races and he was called the next big thing at 205 pounds.

Then things kind of stalled.

There was a win after the Jones fight over the always overvalued Jimi Manawa, then a loss to Antony “Rumble” Johnson and then a loss to Daniel Cormier.

Two tough losses to some of the best to ever do it in the 205 class. Then two wins over Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowitz which is likely the best stretch of Gustaffson’s career. Hardly top competition, but the 205 division is perennially light on top talent.

That’s when things really get murky. Gustaffson gets his rematch against Jones at UFC 232 last December.

Jones, coming off a long layoff for yet another drug suspension seemed ripe for the taking.

Gustaffson fought Jones as good as anyone ever has, couple that with major ring rust for Jones it seemed at the time that maybe it was Gustaffson’s time to slay the dragon that is Jon Jones.

Not so much.

Gustaffson had probably the most uninspired performance of his career. A second-round TKO for Jones and Gustaffson was left to pick up the pieces.

Clearly, Jones had a gameplan to combat Gustaffson’s excellent hands. Jones was masterful staying on his back foot and counterpunched the Swede for the whole fight. It was the antithesis of the first fight.

A dominant win for Jones.

This Saturday Gustaffson faces journeyman and Jones victim Anthony Smith in Stockholm.

Headlining in his home country for the 2nd time, Gustaffson needs a win against the aggressive Smith.

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If Gustaffson doesn’t perform I think this is the last time we ever see Gustaffson in the UFC.

There simply won’t be anywhere for Gustaffson to go if he loses. Hell, I would argue even if he wins, it is going to be tough going for Gus as long as Jones is on top. After the last performance, nobody is thirsting for a Jones- Gustafsson 3.

This is truly a crossroads fight for Gustafsson. If he’s loses, I could see Gustafsson having great success at 205 in Bellator. Which is currently
championed by Jones victim Ryan Bader.

I could also see Gustafsson riding off into the sunset all together. But what if he wins?

I really do not know. It would take a lot of great performances back to back for me to buy another title shot, but Smith will be a good start.

Goes to show you, sometimes being the “next big thing” really is not a guarantee that you are going to have success. The MMA gods do not care. Talent always wins out. If nothing else, Saturday will be interesting because of Gustafsson, hope he’s ready.

His career depends on it.

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