This Saturday afternoon (March 8, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweights Alexander Gustafsson and Jimi Manuwa will throw down in the main event of UFC Fight Night 37, airing live at 3 p.m. ET on Fight Pass from O2 Arena in London, England.
No. 1-ranked "Mauler" was last seen losing an ever-so-close decision to 205-pound kingpin Jon Jones at UFC 165. Many people still think Gustafsson is the rightful champion, but now he has to get past the dangerous "Poster Boy" in order to lock up another coveted title shot.
That's far from an easy task, as Manuwa has never tasted defeat in his 14-fight mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
No. 11-ranked Manuwa was last seen defeating Ryan Jimmo via injury stoppage at UFC Fight Night 30, the second such victory in his three-fight Octagon tenure. The hard-hitting Brit has never once gone to the judges' scorecards, ending each one of his bouts with some form of finish.
However, it's going to take by far the best effort of his career to add Gustafsson to that list. The quality of Manuwa's past opponents greatly pales in comparison to the skillset that "Mauler" brings to the table.
This bout is going to play an integral part in deciding the future of the UFC light heavyweight division. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Gustafsson vs. Manuwa:
Record: 15-2 overall, 7-2 UFC
Key Wins: Mauricio Rua (UFC On FOX 5), Thiago Silva (UFC On FUEL TV 2), Vladimir Matyushenko (UFC 141)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 165), Phil Davis (UFC 112)
Keys to Victory: After his scintillating performance against Jones last year, the cat is out of the bag on Gustafsson. He proved that he's one of the best in the world by taking the fight to Jones early and often, even becoming the first man to take down the champ. If not for a late fourth round spinning elbow, "Mauler" could easily be defending his title right now.
Unfortunately for him, he's not.
With his eyes set on the belt as his ultimate prize, Gustafsson can't look past Manuwa in any sense this Saturday. If he does, his championship plans could quickly go up in smoke. Manuwa has some insane knockout power so Gustafsson needs to stay on the outside of "Poster Boy's" range.
The 6'5" Gustafsson is four inches taller than Manuwa, but he only maintains a two-inch reach advantage. Still, keeping a high volume of jabs in the undefeated striker's face will be paramount to victory.
There's also a case to be made for not engaging Manuwa on the feet at all.
"Poster Boy" has shown an incredibly one-sided preference for dispatching his foes, and Gustafsson is a smart fighter. Training with Phil Davis at Alliance MMA has undoubtedly sharpened his mat skills to a new level. If Gustafsson can take down Manuwa and unleash some ground and pound, he'll have his opponent in uncharted territory.
And that's what it's going to take in London.
Allowing Manuwa to find his comfort zone and begin teeing off with power shots is a recipe for disaster. Gustafsson knows that, so look for him to use his all-around game to stifle Manuwa's power.
Record: 14-0 overall, 3-0 UFC
Key Wins: Ryan Jimmo (UFC Fight Night 30), Cyrille Diabate (UFC on Fuel TV 7), Kyle Kingsbury (UFC on Fuel TV 5)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Former Ultimate Challenge MMA (UCMMA) light heavyweight champion Manuwa has looked impressive in his short stint in UFC. However, looks can be deceiving, as two of Manuwa's three stoppage wins in the Octagon came when his opponent was unable to continue due to injury. While he may have won those fights outright, the uncertainty still remains.
Regardless, Manuwa has gotten a steep step up in competition in the form of a top-ranked former title challenger. There's not much doubt that Manuwa will be looking to knock off "Mauler's" head from the opening bell.
However, this fight isn't going to be like Manuwa's previous bouts.
Gustafsson showed a degree of elusiveness that few light heavyweights have when he largely stayed out of Jones' insane reach to outland him in the boxing department. It's true that Gustafsson lost the kicking game to Jones hands-down, but Manuwa is known more for his punches.
Manuwa is going to have to keep this fight standing long enough to get inside and land some power shots. Gustafsson will be looking for takedowns and Manuwa's ground game has been untested to this point.
If Manuwa hits the ground early, he may find out just how hard it is to contend with the true elite in UFC.
To combat that, Manuwa can't fight with emotion. He'll have the overwhelming support of his home British fans behind him, but he has to harness that as motivation rather than letting the pressure affect his performance. While that's going to be tough to pull off, Manuwa has shown supreme confidence in his skills.
Is he too confident? We'll find out tomorrow afternoon.
Bottom Line from London: The bottom line for this fight is that Gustafsson has been booked in a dangerous match-up that he simply must win. Manuwa may not be the most well known fighter in the minds of casual MMA fans, but he's nonetheless dangerous and motivated to shock the world.
With divisional newcomer Daniel Cormier breathing down his neck, Gustafsson needs this win to stay on top of the short list of worthy contenders to Jones' belt, which "Bones" will defend against Glover Teixeira at UFC 172 in April.
Gustafsson should hold the wrestling advantage here, something that could definitely propel him to victory at O2 Arena. But, he also won't shy away from striking exchanges with Manuwa; he just has to make sure they play out according to his technical expertise.
Manuwa is a power slugger if there ever was one, and there's not much reason to believe he'll shy away from the strategy that got him here. He's going to come out winging shots with bad intentions. If one finds its mark, "Mauler" could be in big trouble. The odds aren't in "Poster Boy's" favor, but he doesn't seem to care.
Manuwa has nothing to lose, which puts him in a very favorable position. On the other hand, he's going up against a man who may just be a future champion.
No matter what happens here, the fans win. Enjoy the fight.
On the surface, this fight may look like a lose-lose proposition for Gustafsson, but in reality, he has much to gain. A potential title shot is on the line for him later this year, and all he has to do to get it is hand Jim Manuwa his first loss as a pro.
Manuwa is definitely one of the best power hitters in the game right now, but beyond that, it's hard to decipher his next best skillset. If he can't knock out Gustafsson in the early rounds, it's going to be a long night for "Poster Boy." There's no doubting his talent, I just think "Mauler" is on another level right now.
Final Prediction: Alexander Gustafsson def. Jimi Manuwa via R3 technical knockout (strikes)