The UFC matchmakers have done it again. Saturday night at the O2 Arena in London, fans will get to witness a classic match-up between an undefeated up-and-comer and a top-five Octagon veteran as the two men attempt to stake their claims as title contenders in the light heavyweight division.

In pro MMA, former UCMMA light heavyweight champ Jimi “Poster Boy” Manuwa does only one thing. He finishes all of his opponents by the end of round two. Manuwa, a 34-year-old Nigerian-Englishman, hails from the London area, and, in 14 fights, has never fought more than 200 miles from his home gym. All three of Manuwa’s UFC appearances have been against game fighters, but nobody who’s even close to top-10 status. His last fight was with former MFC light heavyweight champ Ryan Jimmo, who suffered a leg injury near the end of round two, handing Manuwa his 13th knockout victory. The Brit’s next opponent is, by far, going to be the biggest challenge of his six-year career.

Last September, going into UFC 165, many people felt that 27-year-old Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson was going to be the first man able to legitimately beat UFC light heavyweight champ Jon “Bones” Jones, and he almost did. In the championship rounds, the Swedish fighter battered the champ, stuffed takedown attempts, and ultimately exposed Jones as truly being a beatable opponent. Unfortunately, in a controversial decision, the judges unanimously sided with the champ, and Gustafsson suffered the second loss of his career, though he looked phenomenal in defeat.

Manuwa will be fighting on his home turf again. With Gustafsson’s world-class experience and extensive travel for fights, it won’t be anything new for the Swede to head into enemy territory. Jones faces Glover Teixeira next month at UFC 172, and a win on Saturday will almost guarantee Gustafsson at shot at the winner of that fight. Manuwa still is largely untested by the top 10 of the UFC’s light heavyweight division, but a win over Gustafsson will rocket him into the mix.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Gustafsson – 10, Manuwa – 10

It’s no secret that Manuwa’s primary arsenal lies in his hands and knees. Striking is this guy’s game and he’s damn good at it. In fact, without knowing his background, it could be very easy to assume that it consists of kickboxing, based solely on his performance in the cage. However, that’s not the case at all. Manuwa led a very troubled life before entering MMA, and that’s where his training has always been. He’s a MMA fighter from the beginning, but with 13 knockouts in 14 fights, his striking speaks for itself. He has very accurate and powerful hands, an ultra-dangerous flying knee and a forward-pressing, aggressive nature. However, going into this fight, he will have issues with reach against one of the tallest, longest strikers in the division.

Gustafsson enters the Octagon with a four-inch height advantage and a reach advantage in the neighborhood of two to three inches. The Swede is also an amateur boxing champion and holds a notable nine knockouts as a pro fighter. In addition to a skill set that was put on display against Jones in September, he has a very tough chin. He absorbed numerous strikes from the champ, including Jones’ patented spinning elbow, which didn’t even knock him down. Gustafsson throws a greater volume of strikes than Manuwa, and his striking accuracy is slightly lower as a result. But make no mistake, Manuwa does not want this guy plucking at him for too long, because “The Mauler” does a ton of damage. Just ask Jones’ face as he was on his way to the hospital following their bout.

Manuwa packs power, and Gustafsson packs punishing persistence. Both men are skilled on the feet, and this one could go either way if it stays standing.

Submission Grappling: Gustafsson – 10, Manuwa – 9

Based on past performances alone, the advantage is all Gustafsson’s if this one hits the mat. The Swedish fighter has a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, has won grappling tournaments at the 218-pound division, and has earned three submission wins in his MMA career. It’s been a while, but his last submission was of James Te Huna, another hard-hitting striker like Manuwa.

The English fighter, meanwhile, has only one submission on record, which came over five years ago. He hasn’t needed to fight on the ground much, due to his record of knocking every other opponent out. He trains BJJ out of Nova Forca BJJ in the London area, but hasn’t ever been known for his grappling ability. In a few of his more recent fights, Manuwa has put himself in some precarious positions on the ground, which a guy like Gustafsson will be able to capitalize on better than his previous opponents.

Should this one hit the mat, it will spell big trouble for Manuwa.

Wrestling: Gustafsson – 10, Manuwa – 9

Much like submission grappling, Manuwa has never really been known for his wrestling ability. However, Manuwa is actually a pretty strong wrestler. He has been able to stuff 78 percent of takedown attempts, and his clinch work is pretty effective in setting up some damaging Muay Thai techniques. Yet, when it comes to wrestling, anything Manuwa can do, Gustafsson can do better.

With his long frame, Gustafsson can be very frustrating to deal with in the clinch. Also, his takedown defense is statistically even better than that of Manuwa, and he was able to stuff 10 of Jones’ 11 attempts. After Gustafsson’s first professional loss to four-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler Phil Davis, he began cross-training with Davis at Alliance MMA in California. Gustafsson’s wrestling has improved greatly since he began training at Alliance, and Manuwa is going to have a lot of trouble dealing with the Swede’s superior skills.


The x-factor in this fight is stamina. Manuwa relies on his power to win fights, and he has never been to the third round. Traditionally, power strikers don’t fare well into the later rounds of the fight, and there is no reason to think Manuwa will be any different.

Gustafsson is coming off a five-round war with Jones, and he looked the fresher fighter as the 25th minute ticked off the clock. Prior to his last fight, he went to decisions with world-class strikers Thiago Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, as he picked them apart on his way to victory. If he keeps his distance in the first eight or nine minutes, he could easily wear down Manuwa.

Total: Gustafsson – 30, Manuwa – 28

Verdict: Manuwa may have the better record on paper, but he hasn’t faced anyone near as talented as Gustafsson. If the fight hits the mat early, there is no doubt that Gustafsson will take it by submission or TKO, but that’s not the most likely outcome. Look for the Swede to come out landing his own brand of cautious punishment in the striking game, wearing down his opponent and setting up the eventual TKO.

Gustafsson by second-round TKO.