Alexander Gustafsson has arrived.
The Swedish fighter has been on the radar of many MMA fans over the last few years due to his enormous potential, but he was without a true career-defining victory until last night.
Gustafsson was impressive in his three-round slugfest with Shogun Rua, dishing out two hard shots for every one that Rua sent his way and beating the brawler at his own game.
Most fighters would shy away from getting into a messy brawl with a known finisher like Shogun, but Gustafsson proved he is every bit as good as the hype that surrounds him by thoroughly outworking and out-striking an exhausted Shogun in the latter rounds.
With the win, Gustafsson can finally be considered a true threat to Jon Jones and the light heavyweight title, and his next fight will be crucial if he wants to realize his dream of becoming champion.
Stylistically, a fight between Gustafsson and Lyoto Machida could be seriously fun to watch.
Both fighters are masters at utilizing distance to pick their opponents apart without taking much damage in the process, but obviously in a head-to-head matchup something would have to give.
With Jon Jones tied up until at least April, Gustafsson needs to stay active and keep fighting high-level opponents. There’s no better option than Machida.
“The Dragon” is currently booked to fight Dan Henderson in the co-main event of UFC 157 in late February, but a fight with Gustafsson may be inevitable with both fighters sitting so close to the top of the division.
If either Machida or Dan Henderson somehow find themselves without an opponent by the time UFC 157 rolls around, Gustafsson makes the most sense to replace either of them.
While a fight with Machida would be a technical delight, a bout between Gustafsson and Henderson would likely turn into something much uglier and much more violent.
Henderson seems to have the same “brawl until someone drops” gene that Shogun possesses, but he has a bit more punching power to finish the fight and would provide a stiff test for “The Mauler’s" chin.
Unless the UFC injury bug hits a new level and most of the top-tier guys in the division all get hurt within the next few months, this fight probably won’t be next for Gustafsson.
That doesn’t mean he’s not ready to compete for the title, but with Jones already booked to fight Chael Sonnen and guys like Henderson and Machida also on the verge of earning a crack at the champion, it doesn’t seem likely that Gustafsson will find himself jumping a few spots up the ladder and getting his shot at gold.
A lot of people think that Gustafsson has a chance to provide Jones with his toughest test to date, but it’s just not quite time for “The Mauler” to get his shot.
Before Gustafsson finds himself in a No. 1 contenders bout, or even a title fight, he could get a shot at avenging the only loss of his young career.
Phil Davis submitted the Swede when they first fought back at UFC 112 a few years ago, and while both fighters have grown considerably and have spent time training together, the timing is perfect to set up a rematch.
After Forrest Griffin pulled out of UFC 155 earlier this month, Davis was left without an opponent and was pulled from the card just a few days ago. That opens the door for these two to fight again, and it would give Gustafsson a chance to show the improvements he’s made since getting tapped out a couple of years ago.
If Rashad Evans can get back on track with a win over Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 on Super Bowl weekend, a fight with Gustafsson needs to happen.
Evans is one of the most popular fighters in the sport, a former champion and an Ultimate Fighter winner. In other words, he’s a huge name to add to the resume of an up-and-coming prospect like “The Mauler”.
A win over Evans would prove without a doubt that Gustafsson is ready for a shot at Jon Jones, and hopefully make him a big enough name to sell a PPV bout as well.