It seems that no card could get the blood pumping and the nerves jittering after UFC 211, which promised wall-to-wall action and for the most part delivered. Indeed, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s fifth trip to Stockholm feels like a bit of a letdown, with little name value and a lesser array of truly exciting bouts on Sunday at the Ericsson Globe. Still, there is enough here to make it worth the dedicated fight fan’s time.
The main event is obviously the highlight, with Sweden’s own Alexander Gustafsson looking to get back into the title picture by beating another perennial contender in Glover Teixeira. Misha Cirkunov also looks to bounce himself into the title picture at 205 pounds in a fight with Volkan Oezdemir, who holds an unlikely -- some would say unjustifiable -- position in the light heavyweight top five after the unexpected departure of Anthony Johnson.
Further down on the card, Nordine Taleb stands out as a fighter to watch, particularly after his war with welterweight dark horse Santiago Ponzinibbio in February; high-output boxer Jack Hermansson kicks off the main draw in a tilt with hard-hitting brawler Alex Nicholson; and if top-notch striking is your thing, you do not want to miss the return of Darren Till, who fights on the prelims.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night 109 matchup, with analysis and picks:
Light HeavyweightsAlexander Gustafsson (17-4) vs. Glover Teixeira (26-5)
THE MATCHUP: Neither Gustafsson nor Teixeira looked as good as they might have hoped in their most recent fights. Teixeira’s win was easier overall, as he took advantage of Jared Cannonier’s poor wrestling to control vast portions of the fight on the ground. Even so, he was stunned by Cannonier’s punches and did not show much of the aggressive counterpunching that was once his calling card. For Gustafsson, a fight with Jan Blachowicz was expected to be a one-sided comeback for “The Mauler.” Instead, Blachowicz went strike-for-strike in the opening frame and forced Gustafsson to rely on his wrestling to get an ugly win. Needless to say, this event serves as an opportunity for the two light heavyweights to reassert themselves as top contenders.
At 37, the best days of Teixeira’s career are almost certainly behind him. Nonetheless, he has been a remarkably consistent fighter throughout his 12-fight UFC run. His striking has always been more meat-and-potatoes than steak-frites, but his cross counter-left hook combo is tried and true. That the head movement which has always made these strikes effective was almost entirely absent against Cannonier is strong evidence that Teixeira may no longer be the fighter he once was. Wrestling and jiu-jitsu remain strong elements of his game, however. Teixeira has the best snatch single-leg in the division after Daniel Cormier, and he is equal parts smothering and smashing on top. If his opponent gets reckless in a scramble, Teixeira is quick to snap on a guillotine or rear-naked choke, both reliable submissions throughout his career.
Gustafsson’s style is more that of the traditional boxer. He has an educated left hand, and he will throw jabs of varying speeds both to the body and the head. The left hook has been a more consistent weapon for Gustafsson in recent years, and the double threat of his right straight and right uppercut is incredibly effective. Gustafsson keeps his feet light and moves quite well at range. Though his footwork can fall apart under extreme pressure, he typically keeps his opponent in his sights as he flits from side to side and in and out of range. Gustafsson is not a particularly consistent defensive fighter, but his reach alone makes it difficult for most opponents to hit him with any regularity. As a wrestler, Gustafsson has stopped 86 percent of takedowns in the UFC -- a remarkable achievement when one considers that he has fought both Cormier and Jon Jones. Gustafsson surprised many by taking down both men, and he made them work hard to return the favor.
As a pressure fighter, fans might be inclined to think Teixeira has a natural stylistic advantage over the out-fighting Gustafsson. However, considering the closeness of his bout with Blachowicz, a technical kickboxer, it seems that Gustafsson does his best work when his opponent attempts to close the distance. Cormier may have earned the decision over Gustafsson, but many felt “The Mauler” deserved the nod, and it was by walking Cormier into his long straight punches and sneaky uppercuts that he did serious damage to the face of the champion. Without the speed and output of Anthony Johnson, who crushed Gustafsson within a round in 2015, Teixeira will put a more methodical, measured sort of pressure on the Swede. That might be exactly what Gustafsson needs to show off his footwork and boxing skills.
THE ODDS: Gustafsson (-330), Teixeira (+270)
THE PICK: If Teixeira’s head movement does not reappear in this fight, he will have a hard time avoiding Gustafsson’s quick combinations; and unlike with Cannonier, it seems doubtful that he will be able to save himself with wrestling alone. Gustafsson does have a habit of gassing in long fights, likely because he pushes a fast pace and rarely stands in one place for long. That may not be a problem, however, if Teixeira eats punch after punch on the way in. Gustafsson by second-round TKO is the pick.
Next Fight » Oezdemir vs. Cirkunov