Alexander Gustafsson wants to put his last title fight behind him. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Alexander Gustafsson has been triumphant eight times in the Octagon, but he remains most known for the fight he almost won -- and it’s starting to wear on him just a little bit.
The 6-foot-5 Swede gave Jon Jones the most difficult test of his title reign at UFC 165, taking the then light heavyweight champion to the brink of defeat in their September 2013 bout. While Jones rallied to pull out a hard-fought victory, more than a few observers had “The Mauler” winning on their scorecards. Regardless, Gustafsson’s stock went way up after the epic encounter.
Fast forward two years, however, and Gustafsson is in a holding pattern. After stopping Jimi Manuwa in his first appearance after facing Jones, Gustafsson was brutally finished by Anthony Johnson – in his native Sweden, no less -- at UFC on Fox 14 in January. Meanwhile, Jones’ transgressions led to him being suspended indefinitely and stripped of his 205-pound title. They also allowed Gustafsson to receive a backdoor title shot against new champion Daniel Cormier – even though he is coming off said loss to Johnson.
In the weeks leading up to their fight, Cormier has taken delight in prodding Gustafsson regarding his resume, teasing the Swede about his signature “win” both at the UFC’s “Go Big” press conference and during a recent media call to promote their bout at UFC 192. Gustafsson, for one, is doing his best to put Jones in his rearview mirror.
“I don’t even think about that fight no more,” Gustafsson said during the call. “I’m tired of hearing about that fight too. I’ve got new goals. I’ve got new missions in front of me. That’s all that’s in my mind right now.”
Gustafsson looked nothing like the fighter that gave “Jonny Bones” all he could handle when he squared off with Johnson earlier this year. “Rumble” clipped his foe early and then swarmed for the finish with heavy follow-up punches. Gustafsson was overwhelmed just 2:15 into the opening frame, his time as a contender seemingly a distant memory. Things change rapidly in MMA, however, and the Alliance MMA member has used that defeat as fuel heading into his second championship opportunity.
“It was a tough time for me in my career. It was a tough defeat to take,” Gustafsson admitted. “It’s been my motivation from that time. I came back fast, took a couple of weeks and I’ve been training since then. I’ve been working my ass off the whole summer. I’ve just been correcting my game, developing as a fighter. I’m feeling much better today, and that fight with Anthony just motivates me even more.”
It’s unlikely that Gustafsson will be allowed to forget about Jones for too long, as the ex-champ could return to the UFC relatively soon after entering receiving 18 months’ probation for fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run in Albuquerque, N.M. With no jail time on the horizon for Jones, it seems that his reinstatement is only a formality.
Gustafsson knows that a rematch with Jones won’t happen if he can’t get past Cormier, who is a significant favorite heading into their showdown at the Toyota Center in Houston on Saturday. “I’m not even thinking about Jon Jones right now. It’s just about DC for me right now; he’s the champion of the world and the division. That’s where I have my goal. That’s all I’m thinking about. I’m not thinking about Jon Jones and that situation,” he said. “It’s just DC right now and nothing else.”