By MMA Sucka
After winning a lopsided unanimous decision during his first UFC headlining gig at April 2012â€²s UFC on FUEL TV 2 in his own hometown of Stockholm, Sweden, it became obvious to fans everywhere that Alexander â€œThe Maulerâ€ Gustafsson (14-1) was ready for the MMA spotlight.
He recently said this about that night on MMASucka Radio, â€œFighting in front of friends and family was nerve wracking, but it was the best experience of my life.â€
Many believe it wonâ€™t be long now before the title talk reaches critical mass around this promising 25-year-old, who is currently riding a current five-fight UFC win-streak. But first, Gustafsson must defeat former PRIDE and UFC champion Mauricio â€œShogunâ€ Rua (21-6) in the co-main event at UFC on FOX 5, which airs live from Seattle, WA on Saturday, December 8, 2012.
Gustafsson shared these thoughts on this momentous fight:
â€œI am a fan of Shogun. Heâ€™s a former world champion and heâ€™s fought everybody, so heâ€™s a fighter I look up to and I like his fighting style. He really gives the fans a show. Before I started even in MMA I saw him in PRIDE ad in Youtube clips and stuff, so heâ€™s been around as long as Iâ€™ve been training and itâ€™s an honour for me to fight him.â€
When asked to comment on how the fight might unfold, the fierce fighter within this often unassuming Swede came to the surface, â€œI see myself winning by KO or TKO in the second round.â€
Rua is notoriously difficult to finish, having succumbed to strikes only once before, in a title fight with current divisional kingpin Jon Jones (17-1) at UFC 128. But it remains nonetheless plausible that Gustafsson, a volume puncher with a combination of accurate aggression, a seemingly endless gas tank, and a considerable reach advantage, might repeat that feat.
To help realize this dream, Gustafsson arrived stateside a full five weeks before fight day to conclude his camp at San Diego, CAâ€™s Alliance MMA, home to a host of potential training partners, including Brandon â€œThe Truthâ€ Vera (12-6), who faced Rua at UFC on FOX 4 in August 2012, losing via fourth-round TKO after a spirited brawl.
More on Gustafssonâ€™s trans-Atlantic training regimen:
â€œ[MMA] is so much bigger here in the US. There are more sparring partners and a lot of variation in sparring with some really good wrestlers, but in Sweden we [also] have great MMA training and a great teamâ€¦Itâ€™s just an
ongoing progress. It never stops. You train to learn new things everyday and to develop your whole game. Iâ€™ve got a lot to learn still in the submissions, in the boxing, in the wrestling, and everything. You never get fully learned.â€
As enthusiastic a student as he is of the technical aspects of MMA, Gustafsson remains keenly aware of promotional realities, including the near necessity of beating a legend of the sport before entering serious title contention. In fact, that opportunity slipped away from him once already when Antonio Rogerio â€œLilâ€™ Nogâ€ Nogueira (20-5) withdrew from and was replaced in their intended fight last April.
That he now has a second chance to leave that type of indelible mark on MMA at UFC on FOX 5 is not lost on Gustafsson.
However, considering Jones is set defend his title against Chael Sonnen (27-12-1) at UFC 158 in April 2013, and that Dan Henderson (29-8) and Lyoto Machida (18-3) are set for an apparent #1 contenderâ€™s match at UFC 157, itâ€™s almost certain that no potential win over Rua, no matter how dramatic the method, will earn Gustafsson a guaranteed title shot.
Is â€œThe Maulerâ€ upset by this bottle-neck for the title? He easily could be since it was arguably largely manufactured by the UFCâ€™s marketing machine, but still, the answer is no, at least not exactly:
â€œIâ€™m happy for Chael. Heâ€™s a good guy. I hope he does as best as he can now when he has his shot, but it is a little sad for other light heavyweights who have been working hard and have been fighting in that division for a while. But Iâ€™m still happy for Chael.â€
So who might Gustafsson fight next should he defeat Rua?
Depending on outcomes of several other scheduled fights, that opponent could be among the likes of Glover Teixeira (19-2), Rashad Evans (17-2), and â€œLilâ€™ Nog.â€ But unlike most fighters in similar situations, one fight Gustafsson says he will not pursue is a rematch against the lone man to ever defeat him, his current training partner and good friend Phil â€œMr. Wonderfulâ€ Davis (10-1).
Then again, he also didnâ€™t rule the fight out:
â€œPhil Davis has helped me a lot when it comes to training and to being a full time athleteâ€¦ We have so many other opponents we can face. Heâ€™s a training partner and a friend of mine, so, if itâ€™s up to me, I wonâ€™t fight him, but if the UFC put us in #1 title contender [fight], you never know. Itâ€™s our job and itâ€™s what we do, so, yeah, it depends on the situationâ€
One thing is certain, the comparisons between Gustafsson and Jones are tantalizing to any MMA fan.
Both are young, being born just six month apart, each has a finishing rate well over 80% in wins, each has a lone defeat on his record, and the talented pair are natural athletes who use their superior reach, speed, and athleticism to great effect in the cage.
Some have even gone so far as to call Gustafsson the Swedish â€œBones.â€ While flattering, that comparison holds little weight for the big Swede, but he also wants to see that fight made:
â€œItâ€™s good feedback because he is the champion and the best in our division, but still weâ€™re not the same at all. Weâ€™re from different backgrounds and we fight differently. So, I wouldnâ€™t agree with thatâ€¦I see myself at that level and I see myself doing well. I know Iâ€™ve got the tools to beat Jones or Chael. So I will be more than ready if I get that opportunity.â€
To listen to the full interview with â€œThe Maulerâ€ and the rest of MMASucka Radio click HERE.
Make sure you follow @AlexTheMauler on Twitter and look out for his epic battle with Mauricio â€œShogunâ€ Rua on Saturday December 8th live on FOX.