A young gun looked to take the mantel from a living legend last night (Dec. 8, 2012) as rising prospect Alexander Gustafsson battled former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio Rua in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle, Washington.
Heading into the bout, many wondered if the many wars and injuries over the years had begun to take their toll on the fan-favorite Brazilian, Rua, and whether or not he could handle Gustafsson's speed, length and ever-improving technique.
The other key factor was if the Swedish slugger was ready for such a big step up at this point in his young career as this was by far his toughest test to date.
While Gustafsson didn't dominate quite as handily as some of his fellow main card compatriots, he definitely earned his status at the top of the division in this fight. So how'd he pull it off? And what happens next for both light heavyweights?
Early on, Gustafsson tried to keep it on the outside while Shogun attacked with some leg kicks. This set up the first exciting moment of the bout as Gustafsson caught Rua with his hands down during a kick attempt and knocked him down/off balance with a sturdy right hook counter shot.
The fun didn't end there as before Gustafsson could land any significant damage, Rua was already rolling for a heel hook and he nearly had it sunk in before the Suede was able to escape.
From this point on, there was an interesting dynamic on the feet between Gustafsson and Rua. Gustafsson tried to utilize his range with kicks, jabs and uppercuts from a distance while Shogun began headhunting with his big right hand, whether it was straight or primarily overhand whenever Gustafsson dropped his defenses.
Gustafsson was able to slowly wear Shogun down as the fight wore on, mixing up his attack wish some solid knees but never fully committing to anything which helped avoid Rua's counter shots along the fence and he also managed to throw in some takedowns which also made the Brazilian think twice about committing to any particular strike.
By the third round, Rua had faded and Gustafsson was able to pretty much have his way with him in terms of striking. This led to a unanimous decision with all three judges giving "The Mauler" all three rounds.
For Mauricio Rua, he didn't get completely blown out, but he's still lacking that explosion that set him apart in Pride and helped him win the UFC light heavyweight title. Maybe it's the wear and tear of a lengthy fight career or the repeated knee injuries, but he just couldn't get inside and connect with those big shots. Sure, he found a home on occasion, but it was never enough to rattle Gustafsson or make him scared to keep attacking. He was just a step too slow to hang with the young gun.
Potential next opponents for Rua include Rafael Cavalcante, Rashad Evans or perhaps Phil Davis.
For Alexander Gustafsson, he utlized his range well, fought composed and did a solid job of mixing up his attack particularly the gap between striking and grappling. He kept Rua guessing and forced him to make some mistakes. It would have been nice if he had kept his left hand up better to protect himself from those Shogun overhand rights, but overall, it was a very solid performance and set the tone for him potentially getting a title shot in 2013.
If he doesn't want to wait for the Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen winner, he could step in to fight Lyoto Machida. Other opponents include Lyoto Machida if Dan Henderson isn't ready.
So what's your take, Maniacs?
Did Gustafsson earn a shot with that victory? Or would you like to see a bit more out of him yet?
For complete UFC on Fox 5 results, including blow-by-blow, fight-by-fight coverage of the entire event as well as immediate post-fight reaction click here, here and here.