As if top Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson needed any extra motivation headlining the main event on the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's first-ever show in his native Sweden, he got it when his original opponent, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, went down with an injury.
In stepped Thiago Silva, fresh off a year-long suspension for faking a urine sample. The last time Silva stepped into the Octagon, he humiliated Gustafsson's Alliance MMA teammate Brandon Vera, pretending to play the drums on his back from top position in the third round.
Not pleased with Silva's lack of sportsmanship, the top Swedish prospect plans on both avenging his teammate and honoring his country by not only defeating the powerful Brazilian, but knocking him out in the first round.
"The Mauler" will battle Silva this Saturday afternoon (April 14, 2012) in the featured bout of UFC on Fuel TV 2 in Stockholm, Sweden, and he spoke with MMAmania.com about setting an example for other European fighters, how much a victory means to him and Thiago Silva's "lack of respect" in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is a really important fight, headlining the main event in your home country. Do you feel any burden at all of carrying the hopes of Swedish MMA on your shoulders?
Alexander Gustafsson: No, not at all, no. I'm only trying to go in there and have fun.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Well that's a great mindset to have. You spend a lot of time with Alliance MMA, you train there and in Sweden. Did you get as much time with Alliance as you normally do before fights because Dominick Cruz and much of the team have been in Las Vegas filming The Ultimate Fighter for so long?
Alexander Gustafsson: Yeah, we went and trained in Vegas with them. I got three weeks that I was training with them so that was really good, really good training. We trained at a lot of different gyms over there, but it was all still with Team Alliance. It was a new experience, training with some new guys in the Las Vegas area too. It was a really good camp over there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How much of a help is it to be fighting in your home country? Being able to come home and train for well over three weeks before your fight?
Alexander Gustafsson: It's really good. I'm very excited and motivated and it's been different to train at home and stay home. In the past we did a lot of training overseas and fighting overseas so it's a little bit different but I'm very excited.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of the big stories about your evolution as a fighter has been that you went out to train with Phil Davis after he defeated you. How important is it that European fighters branch out and get training in America to work on their wrestling/etc?
Alexander Gustafsson: I think it's very important. You have to challenge yourself and go overseas and experience that type of training, get used to the real fights over there. It's vital.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel you're setting a good example that other top European fighters can follow because you're able to train in Europe and America and kind of get the best of both worlds?
Alexander Gustafsson: Yeah, absolutely yes. It works for me as an individual. It definitely works for me and I think everyone should try it. It's a good experience.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming opponent Thiago Silva. Now Thiago kind of disrespected your Alliance teammate Brandon Vera in his last fight. Does that give you added motivation heading into this or do you try to block that out?
Alexander Gustafsson: Absolutely. He's a great fighter but he's not a good sportsman. He's lacking in respect in his fights and it just makes me more motivated to fight him. He's a very entertaining fighter too, so it's gonna be a good fight for the fans.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Would it bother you if he tried to do some similar [disrespectful] tactics in the fight against you?
Alexander Gustafsson: No, absolutely not. I'm a professional and I stick to my game. He will probably do it too so I'm prepared for it. It's not going to affect me at all.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I find this fight to be a very interesting style match-up. You're a very good technical striker, you use your range and you circle well and he's very aggressive. He's kind of straight forward, extremely aggressive. Do you feel that your technical style is to an advantage here against someone who's always moving forward like he does?
Alexander Gustafsson: Yeah, absolutely yeah. I would say I'm much better at technical striking than he is but you know, he's got some good power and you can't underestimate him. You have to stay away from it and keep my guard up.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like keeping this fight at a distance will be a huge benefit to you because he'll have to wade in pretty far to land anything significant?
Alexander Gustafsson: Yeah, that's my fight. I like to use my range and that's one of my strengths and a tactic I try to use in every fight. I will definitely be using it against him.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Thiago Silva is a highly ranked fighter. If you defeat him, you'll be among the elite level in the light heavyweight division. Do you think about what a victory over Silva would mean to you?
Alexander Gustafsson: It means everything to me. It's my career. I don't look past him. This is my biggest opponent of my life so far and it's a big step for me. I just want to fight better guys every time. I'm very excited.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'd like the fans to get to know you a bit better. Do you have any superstitions or rituals that you do before your fights?
Alexander Gustafsson: Yeah, I've got some rituals, some superstitions that I do, that I always do. (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Would you mind telling me, or is that a secret?
Alexander Gustafsson: That's a secret (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Aww nuts. Ok, well what goes through your mind when the cage door closes? What are the last thoughts you think when you're staring at your opponent before the fight starts?
Alexander Gustafsson: I try to focus and concentrate and I just go over my gameplan in my head over and over and over again. I try to look at the where my coaches are along the cage so I can make sure to hear them during the fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you talk about how much you enjoy fighting, you really like it a lot. What is about competing and fighting that speaks to you?
Alexander Gustafsson: It's the part when you win in front of like 14,000 people. It's a special feeling, it's really hard to describe. You have to be there and live it to feel it but that keeps driving me forward and motivating me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How do you relax when you're not fighting, when you have to settle down?
Alexander Gustafsson: I like to hang out with family and friends. I've got my dog and I like to be outdoors in the country, just relaxing outside.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Last question, when you visualize victory against Thiago Silva, what do you picture?
Alexander Gustafsson: I picture me knocking him out in the first round, a tough knockout. That's what I see in front of me. That's what I want to do and then I can go home early (laughs).
Alexander would like to thank his head coach Andreas Michael, his gym Team Alliance MMA, Eric Del Fierro, Stockholm Shoot, Gladius MMA, his sponsors Bad Boy and all his fans around the world and in Sweden. You can follow him on Twitter @AlexTheMauler.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Gustafsson be able to avenge his teammate with a strong showing this Saturday? How do you expect him to perform in his first main event bout plus being in front of his home country?