When Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) tapped former light heavyweight title challenger Alexander Gustafsson to face newly-minted 205-pound kingpin Daniel Cormier (16-1) at the UFC 192 pay-per-view (PPV) event in Houston, Texas, on Oct. 3, 2015, it was met with criticism and disappointment from streaking contender Ryan Bader.
Now, the Swede's previous foe at UFC on FOX 14, Anthony Johnson (19-4), has opened up about the controversial decision.
"In my opinion, Bader deserves it," Johnson told MMA Fighting. "He's on a four-fight win streak. He deserves it. I fought three times and I got a title shot. Bader fought four times and he's still behind me."
"Rumble" has a meaningful viewpoint, considering the Blackzilian star flattened "The Mauler" (16-3) with a second-round technical knockout in the latter's backyard of Stockholm, Sweden. The 31-year-old slugger went on to lose in the UFC 187 main event against "DC" for the vacant light heavyweight strap and will now face Jimi Manuwa (15-1) at UFC 191 next month.
"Darth" (19-4), who has compiled wins over three straight top-15 names like Rafael Cavalcante, Ovince Saint Preux, and Phil Davis, tried his best to promote himself as a credible threat (and personality). The 32-year-old wrestler nearly came to blows with Cormier after invading the UFC 187 post-fight press conference.
Though he marketed himself accordingly, Johnson counts how Bader conducted himself inside the Octagon -- as opposed to outside it -- as the main reason behind UFC's decision to overlook him against Cormier.
"I think it's about selling tickets. Selling tickets and getting the fans excited," said Johnson. "He has to go out and start knocking people out instead of sitting there and waiting and side-to-side and throwing jabs. Whatever he does. That's just not entertaining people. Bader doesn't talk that much and when he fights, it's just not that entertaining."
Granted, the NCAA Division-I All-American wrestler is not the most flashy fighter, having won the vast majority of his fights via takedowns, but a 12-4 Octagon record speaks for itself. What is UFC going to do, keep giving him the Jon Fitch treatment?
Still, just one week after the events and fallout of UFC 187, UFC President Dana White announced that Gustafsson would be fighting for the light heavyweight belt for the second time.
Like Johnson said, it is about entertaining fight fans and that is something Gustafsson does. At UFC 165, he nearly toppled former longtime ruler of the 205-pound kingdom, Jon Jones, in a hotly-contested, five-round bloodbath.
It is those kinds of competitive exchanges that have propelled past fighters like Chael Sonnen toward a title shot. The same can be said for former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz, whose famous personality garners the attention of the mixed martial arts (MMA) masses.
Johnson maintained his No. 1-ranking in the light heavyweight division, despite being submitted by Cormier in the third round of their UFC 187 headliner. A finish over the No. 7-ranked Manuwa inside the Toyota Center could propel him into title discussions once again.
Meanwhile, Bader takes on former 205-pound champion Rashad Evans, who returns to the Octagon following an extensive layoff due to knee troubles. Should he emerge victorious, UFC might be hard-pressed to deny him a shot at the winner of Cormier vs. Gustafsson.
For the full UFC 191 and 192 fight cards, click here and here.