Alexander Gustafsson has never lost back-to-back bouts. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Alexander Gustafsson finds his rematch with Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones blocked by Jimi Manuwa.
Some six months after he failed in his bid to dethrone Jones, Gustafsson will collide with Manuwa in the UFC Fight Night 38 main event on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. A victory over the dangerous but largely unproven Englishman could conceivably propel Gustafsson into a desired second showdown with Jones, the man to whom he lost a contentious unanimous decision at UFC 165 in September.
Gustafsson -- who was originally penciled in to face Antonio Rogerio Nogueira -- has rattled off six wins in seven appearances, the aforementioned loss to Jones the only hiccup. The 27-year-old Swede counts victories over 2005 Pride Fighting Championships middleweight grand prix winner Mauricio Rua, former International Fight League champion Vladimir Matyushenko and Australian slugger James Te Huna among his 15 career conquests. A polished boxer, Gustafsson has delivered more than half (nine) of his professional wins by knockout or technical knockout.
Manuwa has put away all 14 of his opponents within two rounds. The 34-year-old former Ultimate Challenge MMA champion last fought at UFC Fight Night 30 in October, when a leg injury suffered by Canadian karateka Ryan Jimmo resulted in a second-round TKO at the Phones 4U Arena in Manchester, England. Manuwa has compiled a 3-0 record since arriving in the UFC in September 2012, having also bested the American Kickboxing Academy’s Kyle Kingsbury and French kickboxer Cyrille Diabate.
The UFC Fight Night 38 lineup provides plenty of water cooler fodder. We discuss some of it here:
Whitman: Headlining this card is arguably the most important fight in the short history of UFC Fight Pass. Do you believe, as I do, that Gustafsson will be too long and accurate for Manuwa? “The Mauler” has got to be headed for a rematch with Jon Jones, right?
Knapp: Anything can happen in the cage, but I think Gustafsson’s boxing skills carry him in this one. The Swede is a polished and proficient standup fighter, and I can see him wearing down Manuwa with his jab and superior footwork. Plus, Gustafsson has proven he can go five hard rounds with the world’s best. Manuwa has not. I expect Gustafsson to score the finish in the third or fourth round, setting up a rematch with Jones, provided the champion can get past Glover Teixeira at UFC 172.
Whitman: Despite Gustafsson’s status as the bookmaker’s favorite, let us speculate that Manuwa can close the distance and use his power punching to pull off an upset. What would you like to see next for the Brit, a No. 1 contender’s fight with Daniel Cormier or perhaps a meeting with the winner of Phil Davis-Anthony Johnson?
Knapp: Either of those proposed matchups makes sense. If Manuwa beats Gustafsson, he becomes an immediate title contender at 205 pounds and would be more than deserving of facing another elite light heavyweight. I think I prefer the Davis-Johnson winner. Cormier has become the fly in the ointment at 205 pounds and would likely leapfrog Gustafsson as the division’s No. 1 contender in the event the Swede falters. Even with his win over a substandard opponent at UFC 170, Cormier has surfaced as the most intriguing challenger for Jones in the minds of many.
Whitman: Do you see some parallels between Michael Johnson and Melvin Guillard? I think both guys are incredibly gifted but have also performed inconsistently at times, to their detriment. Who do you foresee coming out on top in this one?
Knapp: The similarities between these two are hard to ignore, but Guillard has a greater body of work for us to examine. I think the jury is still out on Johnson. With Guillard, I think we have a better idea of the kind of fighter with which we are dealing: a gifted but maddeningly inconsistent lightweight that can compete with anyone on any given night but more often than not finds a way to stub his toe, especially in the true pressure-cooker moments. I favor Johnson slightly in this bout. The younger fighter of the two, he carries far less wear and tear on his body and has a little more momentum behind him.
Whitman: How do you think Brad Pickett will fare as a flyweight? Are we looking at a future title contender?
Knapp: He already owns a victory over 125-pound champion Demetrious Johnson, which is quite the ace to have up one’s sleeve. Much will depend on how much the weight cut impacts him and how he adjusts to the speed difference awaiting him in the flyweight division. This is still a shallow weight class, so he could move quickly if he rattles off a couple of impressive wins.
Whitman: Gunnar Nelson’s ground game is boss, to be sure, but do you think the rest of his game is good enough for the Icelander to make a run at the welterweight elite? I think he will have his hands full with hard-swinging Dagestani talent Omari Akhmedov, who is coming down from middleweight.
Knapp: Nelson is undoubtedly one of the sport’s top prospects, but it is still hard to tell whether or not he has the chops to become one of the premier fighters at 170 pounds. He gets hit a bit too much for my liking, and he may prove to be somewhat undersized when it comes to tackling the brutes who rule the division. I think Akhmedov is a live underdog here and could provide a stern test for Iceland’s most beloved MMA export.
Whitman: Luke Barnatt has a lot of potential, but he is still really green. He showed a lot of heart in his win over Andrew Craig, but I am hoping he will really maximize his height and reach as a 6-foot-6 middleweight. Does the unbeaten Brit have what it takes to be a contender at 185 pounds?
Knapp: Barnett reminds me a lot of Dutch heavyweight Stefan Struve, a toolsy fighter who has not yet learned to utilize all his weapons. Because he is limited athletically, I do not ever foresee him becoming a true contender in the middleweight division. However, Barnatt can certainly carve out a niche for himself as a middle-tier competitor at 185 pounds.