Alexander Gustafsson has been ranked in the division Top 5 since 2012, with four of those years spent comfortably in the No. 1 spot. “The Mauler” currently rests at No. 2 behind light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones, and former 205-pound titleholder, Daniel Cormier.
I would imagine it must be tough for a competitor to find motivation when there is zero chance of competing for a championship title. Gustafsson (18-5) had two opportunities to break “Bones,” but came up short in both attempts.
His UFC 232 loss was not close.
In addition, the towering Swede faltered against Cormier in the UFC 192 main event back when Jones was suspended from combat sports. It was much like his UFC 165 performance in that a narrow decision decided the winner, but you know what they say about three strikes and welp, Gustafsson is out.
So, getting back to motivation, the UFC Stockholm main event will tell us quite a bit about the career trajectory of the former title contender. Gustafsson doesn’t really have much to gain with a win over Anthony Smith and that’s no disrespect to “Lionheart,” but the former middleweight is also coming off a loss to Jones and like “The Mauler,” is stuck in light heavyweight purgatory.
That means Gustafsson will have to find the desire to compete time and time again with no professional advancement. Cormier is fighting Stipe Miocic at UFC 241 in August and may or may not finish his Jones trilogy at heavyweight. Either way, “DC” will retire by the end of the year, so the best Gustafsson can hope for is another trip back to the No. 1 slot.
And a bunch of money for his efforts.
Compounding the problem is that Gustafsson doesn’t have a lot of worthy opponents moving forward, which is probably why the promotion was trying to book a Jan Blachowicz rematch (yawn) before the Pole got injured and rescinded on his verbal agreement. I suppose he can fight Thiago Santos if “Marreta” loses to Jones at UFC 239, and Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes remain options, but they feel a bit like the Smith fight.
A long, winding road to nowhere.
Perhaps that’s what it felt like to be Rich Gaspari in the Lee Haney era, or those two little chicks from Mothra in the era of the DoubleMint Gum twins. Gustafsson is in his fighting prime at age 32, has 14 finishes in 18 wins, and five performance bonuses. Unfortunately, he’s the right guy at the wrong time, because this division belongs to Jones and when “Bones” is away from his desk, Cormier is taking his calls.
Personally, I like watching Gustafsson compete. Not every fight has to be built up with drama or trash talk, because a good fight tells its own story inside the cage. With any luck, “The Mauler” will get the ending he’s hoping for at UFC Stockholm this Sat. night (June 1) on ESPN+. If not, then maybe he doesn’t have it anymore.
“It” being motivation, not skill.