Alexander Gustafsson didn't exactly start off his UFC career in the most impressive terms. After beating a lower-tier fighter, he was thoroughly dominated by star prospect Phil Davis and defeated by submission.
It would have been easy to write Davis off after such a loss, but instead of failing to make it in the UFC, Gustafsson flew to the US to train with Davis. It showed in his next few fights as he won his next two fights by submission and his last fight by knockout.
His recent showing has been impressive enough to merit him a fight with UFC veteran Vladimir Matyushenko. Unlike some veterans who have gotten rusty with age, Matyushenko seems to have proven that there is life after 40. He is currently on a two-fight win streak after knocking out his last two opponents.
Considering his base as a fighter is wrestling, that means that he has only improved with time. So it seems that Gustafsson is going to have to be sharp to pull off the win.
He could go to the ground. Gustafsson is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has won several fights by way of submission. Still, with an opponent who is best known for his work on the ground, it isn't his best bet.
In a pinch, Gustafsson might be able to use his ground skills to pull off a choke or maybe snag an armbar, but he would be wading into dangerous territory in doing so.
Gustafsson does have another option: He could choose to make the fight a striking match.
It's true that Matyushenko has beaten his last two opponents by knockout, but Gustafsson has done the same thing to eight of his last 12 opponents.
Add in the fact that he has a two-and-a-half-inch reach advantage on Matyushenko and four inches in height and it makes a little bit more sense. A match standing also will tax Matyushenko more than a fight on the ground.
It takes more energy to wind up each punch and kick and even more if they miss. Matyushenko may be a veteran who has kept himself healthy, but he is also 40. Time will take a toll as the fight goes on and he misses his punches and kicks.
He will be slower than Gustafsson, and with his cardio diminishing more every round, it will help the young Swede pick up the win.