Fast-rising superstar Alexander Gustafsson has done a good job of making the UFC take notice of his tremendous skills. Utilizing a lengthy reach that prevented Thiago Silva from working his way inside, Gustafsson came out on top in the main event of UFC on FUEL TV 2 in his native country of Sweden.
Now sitting firmly in the Top 10, the young Swede has put together an impressive 6-1 record against hefty competition inside the Octagon.
Not only that, but with the event selling out in only three hours, Gustafsson proved to Zuffa brass that he has drawing power in European markets.
When a fighter produces results in the cage and at the gates, you'd better believe that Joe Silva takes notice. Gustafsson is on the verge of another step up in competition for his next fight. Here is a look at five options for that contest.
Note: Many fans are already calling for Gustafsson to get a title shot or No. 1 contender bout for his next fight. I promise you that neither of those options are on this list. Thiago Silva was unranked at the time of yesterday's fight, as were all of Gustafsson's former opponents. Gustafsson may or may not be ready for such an immense challenge, and if you need an example of a prospect that got pushed too far too soon, look no further than Phil Davis and his anemic performance against Rashad Evans earlier this year.
Forrest Griffin is loved by UFC fans around the world. His endless heart and desire to put on a show has made him an endearing member of the MMA community. However, his day in the sun is coming to an end.
If Griffin is successful in his upcoming rubber match with Tito Ortiz, he will have won three of his last four fights, and all wins would have come against former champions. This is the caliber of fighter that Gustafsson is ready to square off against.
Bleacher Report has Griffin ranked just above the young Swede, although they do not take into account the outcome of yesterday's event. Similar to Tito Ortiz taking a chance by competing against a young up-and-comer like Griffin back at UFC 59, it is now Griffin's turn to give a young lion an opportunity to break through.
Ryan Bader is in similar shoes to Gustafsson, although he may be one step ahead. Similar to Gustafsson, Bader's first loss was to a major prospect. Since then, Bader has worked his way out of a slump by scoring a 77-second knockout of Jason Brilz and then handily defeating Quinton "Rampage" Jackson back in February.
Bader represents the slow route to title contention for Gustafsson, which I think is the right move to make. There are still questions about the Swede, and thrusting him directly into the top of the division may be a bit premature at this point.
Note: After writing this article, I noticed that Bader is also the top choice of MMA Lead Writer Jonathan Snowden. His article on the matter is one to check out.
Phil Davis is the first and only man to defeat The Mauler in his 15 fight career. Since that bout, the two men have trained together with Alliance MMA in San Diego. However, Davis and Gustafsson are too closely ranked to dismiss this bout simply due to a short-term working relationship.
If all fighters who have shared a camp refused to square off, the UFC couldn't offer us 30 cards a year. The fact remains that Gustafsson has yet to defeat an elite wrestler in his budding career, and Davis represents the Litmus test that we all need to see.
Gustafsson getting over this hurdle is vital to his success in the UFC. The top of the division is very wrestling-centric with guys like Jones, Evans and Hendo manning the gates.
This fight was the choice of Bleacher Report's lead UFC blogger Jeremy Botter, and I couldn't agree more. You can check out his analysis of this fight here.
At this point in his career, Gustafsson needs to square off with a former champion who has name value. The UFC light-heavyweight division has no shortage of them. Rua very well could be the best matchup for the youngster due to the current bookings for remaining stars within the division.
With both men possessing an aggressive back-em-up mentality, copious amounts of kicks and unorthodox styles, this would be a fan-friendly affair that shows us where each man stands in the division today.
Shogun is the reason that fighters should beware when they ask for a step up in competition. He is dangerous everywhere, and if there are any holes in Gustafsson's rapidly developing game, Rua will find and exploit them.
Lyoto Machida represents a major threat to any fighter who gets in the cage with him. His counter-striking style would give Gustafsson fits, but fans are adamant that they want to see "The Mauler" get a big step up in competition.
Machida has lost three of his last four fights, and all fights came against champions. This skid against top competition is exactly the reason why "The Dragon" needs to take a step down and build some momentum at this phase in his career.
The step up for Gustafsson and the step down for Machida would see the two combatants meeting in the middle. Machida is currently awaiting an opponent, and this fight could be made for mid-summer depending on how soon Gustafsson is ready to get back into the cage.