Alexander Gustafsson is essentially in light heavyweight limbo.
The two-time UFC title challenger has been lobbying for another crack at the 205-pound crown ever since he demolished Glover Teixeira via knockout back at UFC Fight Night 109 last year. Unfortunately for “Mauler,” there aren’t many options for him atop the light heavyweight division considering current champion Daniel Cormier is taking a shot at heavyweight gold this summer and former champion Jon Jones is fighting for his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
Making matters worse is the fact that two of the top contenders at 205 pounds, European knockout artists Ilir Latifi and Jimi Manuwau, are friends and training partners of Gustafsson. That creates an even bigger logjam in a division already desperate for relevant top 10 matchups.
“It’s a bit of a tricky situation. [Illir Latifi and Jimi Manuwa] are teammates, we are friends — close friends — first and foremost and we won’t fight each other,” Gustafsson told Viaplay via MMA NYTT. “I want to start our discussion by making it clear that we will not fight each other, so now you all know. It’s a tricky situation, for sure. But I mean, we’ll see what happens. [Daniel Cormier] is now going up to face Stipe [Miocic], Ilir Latifi has heavyweight as a possibility. We’ll sort it out somehow. Of course we both should be able to dream of the belt and we both should get our chances to fight for the title, but we’ll see how it all turns out when we get there.”
If Gustafsson is unable to get his hands on Cormier or Jones, and is unwilling to put his friendship aside to battle “Sledgehammer” or “Poster Boy,” then what’s next for the towering Swedish striker? Like many UFC fighters looking for more options, “Mauler” is open to a move up in weight.
“We’ll see. I can move up to heavyweight, in the light heavyweight division we have Jon Jones coming back, [Daniel Cormier] who maybe is coming back or maybe not,” Gustafsson explained. “We’ll see how it all plays out but me and Ilir [Latifi] will not compete against each other and the same goes for Jimi [Manuwa]. We’ll simply have to sit down and talk. How are we going to solve this in the best possible way? Time will tell — but trust me, we’ll sort it out. Heavyweight is also an option. I’m a heavyweight today. I’m actually only a light heavyweight during one day and that’s the weigh-in, after that I’m a good heavyweight.”
Gustafsson, 31, has won back-to-back fights since losing to Cormier via split decision back at UFC 192 in 2015. He remains one of the very best strikers in MMA today and a real candidate to take over the light heavyweight division once “DC” wraps it up and if Jones can’t find his way back to the cage.
But until that happens, Gustafsson will have to get creative with his next fight. A move up to heavyweight isn’t completely out of the question, especially considering Gustafsson’s size and reach, but the promotion may not want its two best 205-pound fighters taking a leave of absence from an already depleted division.