Article by Matthew Roth
This weekend Alexander Gustafsson finds himself in the role of main event fighter for the first time in his UFC career. His opponent? The returning Thiago Silva. Originally Gustafsson was scheduled to face Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, but an injury caused Lil Nog to pull out of the fight.

At just 25 years old, Alexander Gustafsson will continue to develop into one of the top fighters in the light heavyweight division. Finishing Thiago Silva on Saturday night will just be another step along the way.

The fight is likely the most important of Alex’s career, not just because he’s the Swedish main eventer on a card in Sweden, but because a win will catapult him into the title picture.

High Level MMA Boxing and Knockout Power

Here’s some statistics for you.

9: Opponents that Alexander Gustafsson has finished by technical knockout.

1: Times that Alexander Gustafsson has gone to decision.

1: Fighters retired after getting TKOd by Alexander Gustafsson. That fighter by the way is Matt Hamill. Hamill was previously taken to decision by Rampage Jackson.

Quinton Jackson is known for his punching power but was unable to put Hamill away. Alex finished Matt in the second round with brutal punches and elbows on the ground.

It was such a one sided affair that Hamill decided to hang up the gloves immediately afterwards. MMA math doesn’t always work, but in this case it does.

Underrated Grappling

It’s easy to discount Alexander Gustafsson’s grappling acumen because he’s been finishing opponents on the feet. However, he’s also one of the most underrated grapplers at light heavyweight.

Due to his body type, he has an ability to play guard as well as fight from top control and give anyone he faces fits. Two of his five wins in the UFC have come by way of submission, and he’s always improving in the gym.

He’s currently a purple belt under Lloyd Irvin and based on stories from the gym, Alex is a monster on the ground due to his functional strength on the ground. Expect him to continue his development as a ground tactician as he grows as a fighter.

Training with an Elite Camp

Question: What do Phil Davis, Dominick Cruz, Ross Pearson and Alex Gustafsson all have in common?

Answer: The Alliance Training Center—or to be more specific—Eric Del Fierro.

Alliance is home to some of the best young fighters in MMA. Founded by Brandon Vera and part of Team Lloyd Irvin, Alliance has allowed Alex to grow from solid prospect to elite fighter.

Between the training staff and training partners, Alexander Gustafsson has everything he needs to become one of the best fighters in the world.

Eric Del Fierro has quickly become one of the best coaches in the sport and is sought after because of his ability to see minor technical holes in opponents and create game plans to exploit them.

While Alex is an incredible athlete, a lot of his success should be credited to his trainers and training partners.

Who Else Is There?

The reality is that there really aren’t any title contenders at light heavyweight beyond Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson. The top tier is filled with fighters in their mid-30s and most have had poor showings in their last fights.

A quick look at light heavyweight and it becomes very apparent that the division is in need of new challengers. Jon Jones has finished Shogun, Lyoto Machida and Rampage. There just aren’t a lot of available challengers to his belt. Alex is that guy.

Alex Gustafsson is interesting because he’s still incredibly young and has the physical gifts to compete with Jon Jones for the next decade.

The fight with Thiago Silva will be very telling about Gustafsson’s immediate future but only in that a loss could temporarily delay Alex’s climb through the ranks of light heavyweights.