Alexander Gustafsson returns to the cage this weekend in a huge main event in Sweden at UFC on Fox 14. Sadly, it’s not in the fight many MMA fans wanted to see him in: a rematch of his UFC 165 bout against Jon Jones.

To say that Gustafsson’s career since meeting Jones at that September 2013 event has been a roller coaster ride would be a huge understatement. That bout is considered by many as one of the greatest of all time, perhaps the greatest light heavyweight fight of all time, and a pinnacle of the sport. Fans in attendance were highly disapproving when Jones got the nod, deserved or not. Those watching at home, or who viewed later replays saw a fight that was close but could be given to Jones, if by about a hair. Almost universally, a rematch was called for — something nearly unheard of in the sport.

Of course, Jones would go on to fight Glover Texeira instead. Something about beating fresh faces he didn’t already hold wins over. That did nothing to sate the public’s appetite for a rematch. Gustafsson, knowing the Brazilian Texeira was getting the nod over him in Spring 2014, took a fight in the interim, knocking out Jimi Manuwa that March. It seemed like the stars were aligning again: once Jones beat Glover (highhandedly), Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 was booked. UFC 178 in August was the date. The event was moved from Toronto to Las Vegas under the belief that only Vegas could really do such a huge fight justice.

Then, well, remember that roller coaster? Gustafsson tore his meniscus. Rather than lose the title fight, Daniel Cormier was given the shot at Jones instead. The bad blood between the Olympic wrestler and UFC champion spilled over, and pushed the hype train to a whole new level — only to see everything come to a screeching halt when Jones himself was injured.

In the end, Jones wouldn’t fight until early January, 2015, ironically around the same time Gustafsson himself would be set to return to the octagon. Yet the Swedish star’s shot had already been handed to Cormier, and the UFC wasn’t about the rescind that offer, especially given how heated the Cormier-Jones rivalry had become.

Here’s the rub, however: as inflamed as passions became between both the fighters themselves, and fans, the prospect of a great fight between Cormier and Jones always paled next to the spectre of the rematch between Gus and Bones. Cormier and Jones talked; Gustafsson and Jones had already done their talking in the ring. “The Mauler” had already proven himself able to push Jones like no one else. And now that Jones vs. Cormier has come and gone, with Jones still holding on to his championship belt in a one-sided decision (Cormier won but a single round), like a fine wine getting better with age, anticipation for a rematch between Gustafsson and Jones has only been heightened.

Yet the stars still aren’t in alignment, as Gustafsson first has to dispatch of Anthony Johnson – and that in itself is no easy task.

Since returning to the UFC last year after being sent packing following one too many weight cutting disasters, Johnson has looked and acted like a new man. The former welterweight and middleweight is no longer trying to shed fifty pounds leading into a fight and plying his trade at light heavyweight (he walks around in the heavyweight range and even took a heavyweight bout in the WSOF during his time away from the UFC), and since his return has beat up Phil David and absolutely wrecked Antônio Rogério Nogueira. He’s possibly the hardest hitter in the division, and capable of catching just about anyone. Looking much better now that he’s not dropping insane amounts of weight, Johnson is on an 8-0 run currently.

What must Gustafsson do to overcome such a dangerous foe and give fans the rematch they’ve been clamoring for throughout the past year and a half?

Use That Reach Advantage, Work The Jab

Jon Jones has frequently been criticized for using his reach to overcome strong opposition, as if there’s some logic to giving up that advantage to appease fans. As much as Jones is derided, and in many cases rightfully so, there’s just no sense in complaining about him using what he has been given naturally. Any athlete would. Of course, when fighting someone with similar reach, as he did with Gustafsson, well, things looked very different.

With that said, however, Gustafsson needs to do just what Jones has excelled at — use his reach, and keep Johnson’s heavy hands at bay. It’s not a huge discrepancy here: The Mauler will have about a three inch reach advantage over Anthony Johnson.

Work The Sub — If It’s There

The Anthony Johnson of today is much improved from the one UFC fans got to know a few years ago. That said, we still haven’t really seen his submission defense tested since his return to the promotion, and if he had a weakness in the past, it was the submission game, as three of four career losses have come via tapping out. Gustafsson isn’t known as a huge threat on the mat, with just three career victories by submission and a purple belt in BJJ, but he still has the edge in this department, and if the fight goes to the ground, it might prove fruitful.


Stay Focused

It’s easy to look past an opponent when you’re gunning for a rematch with a foe who has a win over you. It can create a sort of single-minded obsession in a fighter. Yet while Jones is the prize, Gustafsson needs to stay focused on Johnson. He’s simply too dangerous a fighter to overlook.

 

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.