Photo via UFC.com
During the main event of yesterday's (April 14, 2012) UFC on FUEL TV 2: "Gustafsson vs. Silva" event, the commentary team seemingly couldn't go five minutes without comparing Alexander Gustafsson to current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones.
From his reach to the way he often let his arms hang down at his sides, one would believe everything the Swede did yesterday was a European mirror image of "Bones."
The constant comparisons soon became the subject of ridicule on Twitter and on the blogosphere. And while it was a bit annoying and heavy handed, it wasn't altogether incorrect.
Watching the young Gustafsson pick apart Thiago Silva with relative ease, I thought back to the Swede's UFC debut two and a half years ago. I thought back to his latest fight this past December when "The Mauler" took out Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran Vladimir Matyushenko.
The level of improvement between now and Gustafsson's bout with the Belarusian is amazing, but the improvement he's made since his Octagon debut at UFC 105 is downright staggering.
A similar claim could be made about the 205-pound kingpin. But beyond that, beyond reach and fight stance, even beyond age, there's one other similarity between the two fighters that puts them in the same class.
Find out what it is after the jump.
Jones is lambasted and reviled for what many perceive as a cocky or arrogant attitude, but watching him fight, it would be impossible to argue against his skill. The man is the champion for a reason, after all. It's Jones supposed smugness which gets under many fans' skins. He knows he's just that good and acts appropriately. The attitude seeps into his fights.
From his debut at UFC 87 to his devastating submission victory over former champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 140, "Bones" has dominated and trounced every single opponent unlucky enough to step inside the Octagon with him. You don't accomplish all that and not have a little swagger in your step.
Jones acts and fights like a champion, like a man who knows when the Octagon gate closes, it won't open again until his arm is raised. He fights with confidence.
I saw the same from Gustafsson yesterday in Stockholm.
His body language, the way he carried himself inside the Octagon against Silva was that of a man who knew he was going to win the fight and the only way he wouldn't wasn't because of something the Brazilian did but rather because of something he, himself, didn't do.
He was relaxed -- perhaps too relaxed as this was his first decision win in the UFC and only second overall -- but focused, calmly putting his gameplan into motion of keeping his opponent on the outside and peppering away with pinpoint accurate boxing.
What makes Gustafsson even more interesting is he already has a loss on his record. Yes, Jones also has a 1 in his loss column, but it was and remains a technicality. He absolutely butchered Matt Hamill, but through a strange set of occurrences and some illegal elbows, "The Hammer" was awarded the victory by disqualification.
It didn't look or feel like a loss for "Bones" who would end up in the headlining slot for his next fight.
"The Mauler" legitimately lost to Phil Davis at UFC 114, choked out with seconds remaining in the first round. When a young man finds a lot of early success like he did -- Gustafsson was undefeated with nine victories to his name going into the bout -- a loss as definitive as that could make or break him.
Luckily for us, it was the former rather than the latter. The Swede took the loss and over the next two years has made himself into a top 10 light heavyweight on the cusp of a title shot.
Like I wrote in a previous article, I don't feel Gustafsson is quite ready for that honor just yet. Besides, Dan Henderson is still waiting in the wings, eagerly anticipating the UFC 145 main event between Jones and Rashad Evans. The 205-pound title, for all intents and purposes, is tied up for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, book "The Mauler" against Lyoto Machida or at the very least Ryan Bader. Evaluate his performance in the next fight and then determine if he's ready.
If he shows the same confidence and improvement he has throughout his career, I wouldn't doubt he will be.