With few mixed martial arts (MMA) fans giving Alexander Gustafsson much of a chance to dethrone Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones last night in UFC 165 main event from Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada, "The Mauler" delivered the performance of a lifetime.
Indeed, the Swede came out of the gate strong, pushing the action and making "Bones" look terribly uncomfortable. He even scored an early takedown, the first-ever inside the Octagon against Jones, signaling that the most decorated 205-pound champion was in for the fight of his life.
To his credit, Jones responded, displaying a previously unknown amount of grit, mettle and determination, shaking off the shot, as well as a cut above his right eye, to storm back and exchange with Gustafsson for 25 insanely thrilling minutes. He described it best in his post-fight speech (read it here), when he called it a "dog fight" that required "warrior spirit."
So, when the judges scorecards were about to be revealed (see them here), the moment was unusually tense, with neither fighter -- nor the fans -- truly knowing who would be declared the winner. And when Jones' name was announced, it was clear that he was utterly relieved -- and perhaps even stunned -- while Gustafsson and his fans were forced to imagine, "What could have been?"
Immediately after the instant classic, and before he headed to the local hospital (not the post-fight press conference) for observation along with Jones, Gustafsson shared his thoughts on FOX Sports 2's UFC 165 after show.
"Hard to say [if I did enough to win the fight]," he said. "I don't know. He's the champion for a reason. If you take the belt from the champion, you need to finish him. I didn't get the belt, I'm disappointed. The biggest lesson is that I need to push the pace harder. I have to sit down and watch the tape after this -- I don't remember the fight. I just did what I had to do, but, it wasn't enough."
Many might disagree with that sentiment, even if the FightMetric report (read it here) seems to think the judges got it right. Regardless, it was the "Fight of the Night," most likely the "Fight of the Year" and perhaps the "Fight of the Light Heavyweight Division," which means one thing:
It seems as though, unsurprisingly, UFC President Dana White is on board with the idea even if he tried to dial back his enthusiasm about the possibility of staging it on SuperBowl weekend 2014. In fact, anything but an immediate rematch would probably be considered a huge mistake because of how it all turned out and what it could mean, financially, moving forward.
Count Gustafsson in.
"I'm disappointed, but I'm very proud about what I did tonight…. I learned a lot. Absolutely, I'm down whenever [for a rematch]. I want a rematch right away if I can, but it's up to UFC. I'm just blessed to be in UFC and it was an honor to fight Jon Jones. I'll be ready whenever they call me."
So, too, will MMA fans. But, will Jones?