UFC 151: Where Was Alexander Gustafsson in the Jon Jones Replacement Talk?
It's been four days since UFC President Dana White broke the news that the promotion's 151st flagship event would double as the first one ever canceled.
Let me take a moment to get you caught up. When light heavyweight champion Jon Jones's regularly scheduled UFC 151 opponent, Dan Henderson, got injured, no one could line up a replacement. One top suitor was Chael Sonnen, a middleweight of some repute now moving up a weight class. Jones demurred the young man's advances.
And then, oh, did we have a digital donnybrook on our hands. Fans tore at their online clothes. They gnashed their virtual teeth. They pitched rocks at Jones as he proceeded to crucify himself before their very eyes using only three tweets, roughly hewn and lashed together to form the most painful fictional self-flagellation since the albino guy in The Da Vinci Code.
But there was no rest for the weary. With Sonnen out of the picture, fans and pundits took a nauseating spin on the Rua-Machida merry-go-round. Round and round it went. Entire meals were lost. By the time Vitor Belfort restored order, the damage was done. No one's been right since. And because Jones-Belfort moved to UFC 152 and the balance of the 151 card was a thin stew of camel spit and Eddie Yagin, the kibosh, as they say, was put.
But I didn't come here to talk about that. I came here to wonder aloud about the fact that, as we all labored through this parade of gore and loathing, one name surprisingly never surfaced, either for UFC 151 or 152. That name is Alexander Gustafsson.
You know, the charismatic and sharp-striking Swede with the five-fight win streak who could have stopped this passion play dead in its dusty tracks? It seems there was a belief that Gustafsson hadn't earned a shot at Jones. Raise your hand if you believe that. Great. Now keep your hand up if you think he deserved it less than Chael Sonnen. Be serious. Seeing no raised hands, I'll continue now.
Not long before all this happened, Gustafsson learned he'd face Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in December, following his convincing win over Thiago Silva back in April. So it's not like he's been in the deep freeze. Now do you want to hear something really crazy? Barely two weeks before the spit hit the fans, Gustafsson proved surprisingly prescient when he randomly offered to step in should something befall Hendo or Jones. In the same article, White even pegged Gustafsson for "a big fight."
So what the hell happened? How did he go from next in line to nobody? How was he leapfrogged by two divisional interlopers and two guys in Rua and Lyoto Machida who already live on plaques over the champion's fireplace?
I don't know. Now to be clear, I'd pick Jones in this matchup. But Gustafsson is no gimme, and I don't think anyone can honestly say the matchup is devoid of intrigue.
In any case, Gustafsson (14-1) certainly has a better claim than Sonnen, a great fighter but unproven in the UFC at light heavy. By contrast, Gustafsson's a rising veteran of the division at the ripe old age of 25 (same age as Jones, incidentally). He hits hard and from multiple angles. He has a good chin. He has main event experience. And his ground game is purportedly improving thanks to training partner and college wrestling champ Phil Davis.
Oh, and that vaunted Jon Jones reach? Virtually neutralized, at least on paper. Gustafsson extends about 77 inches; still a disadvantage to Jones' 84-inch pythons, but certainly a heck of a lot closer than pretty much everyone else.
Nevertheless, Gustafsson's name fell pretty quickly out of everyone's mouth. One minute he was the next big thing. The next, for no reason I can discern, he was "one win away" from being "in the mix" as a pay-per-view hung in the balance. Is this really the time to pull up the reins? Strange time for beggars to become choosers, or to forget Gustafsson existed.
(And by the way, don't kid yourself: Gustafsson ain't Brandon Vera, and he sure ain't Forrest Griffin. He's going to blast Shogun this winter. Mark my words.)
It all feels slightly short-sighted, especially given that an entire freaking fight card was on the line. Imagine all the imaginary bloodshed that could have been avoided.
Follow Scott Harris on Twitter @ScottHarrisMMA.
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