At long last, the UFC’s extended Spring Break is over. Be ready fight fans, because beginning with UFC on Fuel TV 2 “Gustafsson vs. Silva” on Saturday, the big-time MMA schedule is going to get a lot more hectic as the spring and summer months arrive.
The promotion’s latest venture toward international dominance takes us to the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, where native son -- and highly touted prospect -- Alexander Gustafsson looks to make the leap against dangerous American Top Team standout Thiago Silva. If “The Mauler” puts on a top-notch performance, the natives go home happy and the UFC gets another light heavyweight contender. Of course, Silva will have a say in that, especially since he’s had some serious downtime since his last Octagon appearance.
It’s a night that includes a bevy of free fights in a new locale, highlighted by a 205-pound clash with serious big-picture implications. What’s not to like? Here’s a closer look at UFC on Fuel TV 2, with analysis and picks.
Gustafsson (13-1, 5-1 UFC) vs. Thiago
Silva (14-2, 5-2 UFC, 1 NC)
The Matchup: If Jon Jones is able to get through projected matchups against Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson in 2012, Gustafsson has been targeted by many as his next potential obstacle. Such a fight is little more than speculation at the moment however, because Gustafsson is still undergoing the maturation process that allows one to progress from prospect to contender.
Lately, the Swede has been making all the right moves. Gustafsson put his length and speed advantages to good use against the well-traveled Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC 141, buckling the Belarusian with a left jab as he moved forward to set up a TKO win. It was the second straight bout in which Gustafsson’s used superior athleticism to outclass a wrestling-based opponent; he used a similar approach to dispatch Matt Hamill at UFC 133. Thanks to his lanky 6-foot-5 frame, many opponents believe it is in their best interest to bully the Stockholm native, but so far no one outside of Phil Davis has been able to put that plan to work.
Silva figures to present Gustafsson with a far different style than he has seen in recent bouts. The American Top Team representative likes to pressure his foes to force exchanges, and he is adept at landing short, accurate punches in close quarters. Although Silva is known for his aggression on the feet, he does some of his finest work on the mat. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Silva’s ability to pass guard and control positioning allows him to work effective ground-and-pound. Brandon Vera saw this firsthand at UFC 125, as the Alliance MMA product suffered a broken nose as well as a bruised ego as a result of the Brazilian’s relentless assault on the canvas.
Silva was originally scheduled to rematch Vera in a grudge match of sorts, but injuries to “The Truth” as well as Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Gustafsson’s first opponent, allowed him to move to co-headlining status in his first action in more than a year. It will be interesting to see how Silva responds to facing someone the caliber of Gustafsson after an extended layoff. After beginning his UFC career with four straight victories, Silva has faltered against top-tier competition, falling to the likes of Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans.
With 13 finishes among his 14 career triumphs, there is no question that Silva enters the cage intent on avoiding the judges’ scorecards. However, when opponents don’t succumb to his bullying style, Silva can become flustered and resort to all-out brawling. That would be a mistake against Gustaffson, who along with solid power, utilizes good movement and can string together enough combinations to test Silva’s chin should he get wild. Despite his build, Gustafsson can dictate the action through above average takedown defense as well as his ability to win scrambles. The 25-year-old is a decent grappler as well, as he can counter in tie-ups and on the mat.
The Pick: Gustafsson has been blitzed and survived before -- see his matchup against James Te Huna at UFC 127. Look for something similar from Silva, who will go for broke from the opening bell. Gustafsson might find himself in danger early, but he will maintain his composure and survive. As the bout continues, Gustafsson begins to assert his will on the feet, using his superior boxing and reach to capture a unanimous decision.
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