Two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight title challenger, Alexander Gustafsson, will face off with knockout artist, Glover Teixeira, this Sunday (May 28, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 109 inside Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden.
Gustafsson’s career has seen its fair share of ups-and-downs.
He bounced back from his first career defeat in style, winning his next six UFC bouts and earning a title shot opposite Jon Jones. That fight is already sealed in legend, as Gustafsson exceeded expectations and very nearly stole the title from “Bones.”
The fight following is undoubtedly the low point of Gustafsson’s career. In front of his home crowd, Gustafsson tasted the brutal power of Anthony “Rumble,” losing via stoppage. His next loss was bittersweet, as Gustafsson almost defeated Daniel Cormier to win the belt.
Since then, Gustafsson scored a ho-hum decision over Jan Blachowicz and must win here to return to the title picture. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Gustafsson takes full advantage of his lanky frame to damage and break down his opponents. Unlike his rival Jon Jones, Gustafsson relies far more on his punches, as the Swede actually got his martial arts start in boxing.
More than most, Gustafsson heavily relies on movement and footwork. The title challenger is constantly circling around the outside of his opponent's range, changing directions and feinting. While he's looking for openings, Gustafsson keeps an active jab to prevent his opponent from closing the distance unobstructed.
The jab is definitely a major tool for “The Mauler,” and he uses it in different situations. When he's just flicking it out while circling, Gustafsson is largely using it as a tool to make his opponent hesitate and gauge reactions. Once that distance is established, Gustafsson will soon step into the strike, which allows him to land with power and set up his combinations. He can also double or triple up on jabs and will mix softer, flicking jabs with jabs that have his full weight behind them.
If his opponent steps forward at the wrong time, Gustafsson's jab can even be a finishing weapon (GIF).
One of Gustafsson's most important weapons in his bout with Jones was actually the body jab, an often overlooked punch. The body jab is fairly easy to land, often causing a fighter's hands to drop, and is a relatively safe strike to throw. Gustafsson began throwing the punch from the onset of the bout, allowing him to fatigue "Bones" a bit and build upon the strike later.
Jones proved his discipline by keeping his hands high and not reaching for the body jab, but it nevertheless created holes in his defense. Tensing up to absorb the blow is tiring and slows reactions, which allowed Gustafsson's follow up punches to break through the champion's defenses.
Gustafsson built from the body jab masterfully. After landing a body jab, Gustafsson would come up and throw three- to four-punch combinations. Later in the fight, he'd mix it up by attacking the stomach with straight right hands and coming up or jabbing to both the head and body in combination.
You would be hard pressed to find a rangy boxer — a good one at least — who doesn’t make use of the 1-2 (GIF). It's a very effective combination for Gustafsson, though he sometimes hangs around to long after throwing the punches, leaving himself in danger. Most of the time, however, Gustafsson does a nice job of angling or rolling after his right hand, which keeps his feet moving and head out of danger.
Gustafsson’s favorite punch is undoubtedly his right uppercut (GIF), which is both a blessing and a curse. At his best, Gustafsson is slinking backward, hiding his chin behind his shoulder, and shooting uppercuts down the center on an advancing opponent. He did this well against Daniel Cormier, and the punch slipped past his opponent’s guard often as a result.
Alternatively, Gustafsson has a bad habit for reaching with his uppercut. Whenever a fighter — particularly a taller one — really leans into an uppercut, it leaves them terribly vulnerable to punches and in poor position to absorb blows.
When Gustafsson switches it up and goes on the offensive, he often punches his way into the double-collar tie. From this close range, Gustafsson is dangerous both with knees and uppercuts up the middle (GIF).
One of the more interesting changes to Gustafsson’s game in recent years is his increased use of kicks, which makes a ton of sense considering his outside game. Gustafsson’s kicking game — primarily with his left leg -- are the subject of this week’s technique highlight.
The most underrated aspect of Gustafsson’s game is likely his wrestling. The combined statistics of his fights with Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones — two of the sport’s premiere wrestlers at any weight class — the tallied total leaves Gustafsson and his opponents both with two completed takedowns.
Not bad for a Swedish boxer.
Gustafsson’s best takedown set up is definitely his reactive double leg. On both Jones and Cormier, Gustafsson managed to surprise his opponent by halting his lateral movement, planting his feet, and springing forward with a double leg takedown rather than punches.
The style of high double leg that Gustasson shoots takes full advantage of the striking stance his opponent is in. Gustafsson doesn’t have to level change all that much, only getting below his opponent’s hips. Once in, Gustafsson’s lanky arms help him pull his opponent off-balance, and Gustafsson can circle with the shot until it’s completed.
In Gustafsson’s most recent bout, he returned to the takedown more often than ever before. He relied on lot on his double leg, using the left hook to raise his opponent’s guard before ducking in on the hips. Once there, his finish was the same, as Gustafsson drove in and circled till his foe fell.
Gustafsson is an excellent defensive wrestler. He has never been an easy man to takedown, and his technique has come a long way since the beginning of his UFC career.
For one, Gustafsson's style of striking is an excellent foil to the takedown. Since he keeps such a large amount of distance between himself an his opponent, rarely over-commits on his punches, and is rarely standing still, it's very difficult to line up a clean shot from the proper range on Gustafsson. Whenever Gustafsson notices a shot is coming, he’ll switch his hips, which goes a long way in denying the takedown.
Regardless of whether his opponent takes a poor shot and doesn't fully get in on the hips or simply tries for a clinch, he's very often out of luck. Gustafsson does a fantastic job shooting his hips back and low while pushing away at his opponent. Once his opponent fails to gain control of Gustafsson's hips, his chances of success on the shot is basically gone, as "Mauler" will quickly fight for an underhook or frame his opponent's face. Additionally, Gustafsson likes to grab a quick collar-tie and turn his opponent, allowing him to run off the fence.
Either way, Gustafsson will slip from his foe's grasp before long.
Gustafsson is not much a jiu-jitsu specialist. He is rarely put on his back, and when he is trapped there, his priority is to wall-walk and scramble back to his feet quickly as he can anyway.
The only real use of jiu-jitsu in Gustafsson's career has been against heavy power punchers. When fighters really commit to punches in the hopes of scoring a knockout, it's generally pretty easy to take them down. This was the case in Gustafsson's fights with James Te Huna and Cyrille Diabate, as Gustafsson dropped down and threw them to the mat. From top position, he used the cut pass to move through their guards, eventually transitioned into back mount, and locked in the choke (GIF).
Against a more conservative grappler in Blachowicz, Gustafsson struggled to find that opening. Blachowicz was content to sit in guard and try to occasional armbar rather than scramble to his feet, which meant Gustafsson spent most of the bout sitting in guard and landing elbows.
This is something of a must-win fight for Gustafsson, whose reputation as an elite fighter is carried more by his stellar performances in losses than in any one win. Teixeira is a skilled and tough fighter with plenty of experience, but if Gustafsson is going to continue contending with the division’s best, he’s an obstacle the Swede must overcome.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.