Although the UFC almost exclusively airs fights with title implications on Fox or pay-per-view, the promotion has surprisingly relegated the April 6th matchup of top 10 light heavyweights, Alexander Gustafsson and Gegard Mousasi, to the headliner at UFC on Fuel TV 9.
Light heavyweight has always been one of the most talent-rich divisions in the UFC, but with Jon Jones sitting atop the heap, it has left the other fighters the unenviable task of jockeying for that No. 1 contender spot.
Swedish striker Alexander Gustafsson will be entering the cage riding a six-fight win streak, with his most recent victory coming against former UFC light heavyweight champ, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, back in December.
For Gegard Mousasi, this fight marks his first appearance inside the Octagon, but don’t expect there to be any fight-night jitters. Mousasi is a true veteran of the game, having previously competed in Pride, Dream and Strikeforce. In his MMA career, he has racked up 33 wins, most notably over the likes of Mark Hunt, Hector Lombard and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza.
There is little doubt that Gustafsson and Mousasi will put on a Fight of the Night-caliber performance, though it remains unclear what a win will do for each fighter's standing in an already crowded division.
"If Mousasi beats Gustafsson, he skyrockets right to the top of that division," White said, And as far as Gustafsson goes, if he beats Mousasi in that fight, he's in line for a title shot."
However, as is usually the case, the promise of being next in line for a title shot is not the same thing as a guarantee. Gustafsson knows this all too well having recently found out that Lyoto Machida leapfrogged him and will get the next crack at the belt.
Even though Machida is 3-3 in his last six fights and is coming off a less-than-stellar split decision win over Dan Henderson at UFC 157, he still got the nod to fight the winner of Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen, who are scheduled to lock horns at the end of April.
This situation underlines the fact that title shots in the UFC aren't always solely awarded on the basis of fight performance. This poses a serious problem for Gustafsson and Mousasi, who are both dynamic fighters but lack the name recognition or presence outside the cage needed to sell a pay-per-view main event.
With their fight airing on Fuel TV, which is currently only available in 36 million American households, it is all the more imperative that the fighters make a definitive statement that will reverberate throughout the MMA community.
And while a highlight-reel knockout or submission victory will definitely move either Gustaffson or Mousasi up the divisional ladder, it will still probably leave the winner needing to defeat one more Top- 10 opponent before truly securing that elusive title shot.
But, then again, even that isn’t a guarantee.
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