UFC Fight Night 37: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jimi Manuwa Head-to-Toe Breakdown
The time has come for Alexander Gustafsson to earn his potential rematch with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. While the second meeting has been viewed by many as an inevitability, Gustafsson will first need to get through Jimi Manuwa at UFC Fight Night 37 in London.
While he is a sizeable underdog heading into Saturday, Manuwa has stopped his first three UFC opponents and has the knockout power to shock Gustafsson. The Englishman hasn't fought an opponent on Gustafsson's level, but he's also undefeated and has scored knockout wins in 13 of his 14 MMA bouts.
Meanwhile, "The Mauler" has not competed since his September war with Jones. The loss was only the second of Gustafsson's career. Following his other downfall, a submission loss to Phil Davis, the Swedish light heavyweight rattled off six consecutive wins to get his shot at the 205-pound championship.
As this important main event approaches, here is a closer look at how Gustafsson and Manuwa match up in all areas.
Manuwa hasn't been scoring highlight-reel knockouts inside the Octagon, but he has battered his opponents with strikes prior to injuries halting all three of his UFC outings.
He throws with power that is almost unmatched in the light heavyweight division, but he doesn't sacrifice form. While Manuwa swings for the fences with most of his strikes, he doesn't have a tendency to get overly wild when standing.
In his UFC debut against Kyle Kingsbury, "Poster Boy" also displayed solid striking IQ.
After having a lead left hook ducked for a takedown early in the first round, Manuwa adjusted appropriately after working back to a standing position. Recognizing Kingsbury made a habit out of leaning under the lead hook, Manuwa threw a left to the body, which put him in a better position when Kingsbury looked to clinch.
So, instead of being taken down, Manuwa was able to rock his opponent with a nasty knee to the head.
When he meets Gustafsson, Manuwa may have to make a similar alteration in his approach. The Englishman throws his lead left hook regularly, and Gustafsson displayed an ability to counter that strike expertly against the best in the world, Jones.
At UFC 165, Jones threw a short left hook in the fourth round. Already circled to the outside of Jones' lead leg, Gustafsson was able to slip the punch and return a left hook of his own. After landing, Gustafsson was also able to take the center of the Octagon.
The Swedish fighter needs to be careful about repeatedly ducking the lead left hook, or Manuwa will modify his attacks as he did against Kingsbury. However, we're talking about a much more advanced striker than Kingsbury, as Gustafsson has never suffered a knockout loss in his MMA career.
Behind his lead left hook, Manuwa's second-most utilized punch is probably his right overhand. It could be a useful attack against the taller Gustafsson, but "The Mauler" has more than had an answer for the overhands he has come across in past fights.
In an April 2012 bout against Thiago Silva, Gustafsson answered a right overhand with a shorter uppercut and knocked the Brazilian down. From that point on, the usually aggressive Silva was hesitant to explode forward.
If Gustafsson can frustrate Manuwa early on in similar fashion, he could force another attacking adversary into a shell.
Despite being the shorter man, Manuwa does have a slight reach advantage over Gustafsson. However, in his bout with Jones, whose reach is five inches longer than Manuwa's, Gustafsson proved he has the jab and kicks to deal with disadvantages in reach.
Since his loss to NCAA champion wrestler Davis, Gustafsson has quietly become one of the better wrestlers in the light heavyweight division.
After losing to Davis, Gustafsson began training with him and has scored 11 takedowns while only allowing three in his seven fights since then. In his most recent outing, "The Mauler" became the first fighter to score a takedown on Jon Jones, who he arguably outwrestled over five rounds.
While Manuwa constantly throws power strikes, Jones is more of a volume striker. A closer comparison between Manuwa and a past Gustafsson opponent can be made with Mauricio Rua.
In his bout with Gustafsson, "Shogun" regularly looked to land the right overhand, a strike that Manuwa throws frequently, as previously noted.
Gustafsson recognized this and began baiting Rua in the second round. When the Swedish fighter feinted his jab, Rua looked to counter with the overhand right and swung at air as Gustafsson level changed and recorded one of his six takedowns in that matchup.
Despite his reputation of a striker, Manuwa will also look for takedowns. He's attempted seven in his past two fights and was successful on all three of his tries against Cyrille Diabate.
It will be very difficult for Manuwa to win in the wrestling department against Gustafsson, though. The Mauler has not allowed more takedowns than he's scored in a single fight since his loss to Davis that happened nearly four years ago.
Over that time, Gustafsson has faced Jones, Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill, who are all much more proven wrestlers than Manuwa.
Gustafsson hasn't spent much time on the ground in recent fights, so this matchup may provide him with a chance to remind everyone about his submission abilities.
While his striking has played a large role in his most notable victories, Gustafsson did score two submissions during the winning streak that led to a title fight with Jones. Similar to Manuwa, the opponents Gustafsson submitted, Diabate and James Te Huna, presented a serious knockout threat to the Swedish contender.
With that in mind, it would hardly be surprising to see the former title challenger look to beat Manuwa on the canvas.
Against Kingsbury, who is hardly known for being an elite grappler, Manuwa made multiple mistakes on the ground. In the first round, Manuwa had to fend off a D'Arce choke attempt, and the second round saw the Englishman hand Kingsbury a takedown on a silver platter.
Manuwa was briefly looking for a choke from the front headlock position before he decided to return to a standing position. However, rather than scooting his legs away from Kingsbury while pushing his opponent in the opposite direction, Manuwa simply pushed down on Kingsbury's head and stood up.
With Manuwa's leg still within reach, Kingsbury penetrated forward and took the top position.
Obviously, this isn't the kind of error that would lead to an immediate submission. However, it is a folly that showcases Manuwa's relative inexperience on the ground and leads this writer to believe he could be submitted should he wind up underneath an even more talented grappler on Saturday.
Gustafsson and Manuwa last appeared in the fall. So, while they've been sidelined a bit longer than they'd probably hoped, neither should come out rusty this weekend.
The later rounds could be a different story, though.
Running through regional competition and his first few UFC opponents, Manuwa has never even seen a third round. Gustafsson, on the other hand, is coming off of five tough rounds with the best light heavyweight in MMA history.
With this bout being set for five rounds, Gustafsson should end up with a conditioning advantage as the fight carries on.
There is a reason so many are assuming Gustafsson is going to meet Jones again sooner rather than later. No fighter can ever be counted out in MMA and Manuwa is a live underdog, but he's overmatched in almost every conceivable area.
While it will only take one punch to mess up everyone's plans for a highly anticipated rematch between Gustafsson and Jones, Manuwa is going to have a tough time remaining standing. Even if he doesn't take Manuwa to the ground, Gustafsson has a solid chin and a jab that can keep him at a safe distance from his opponent's power strikes.
The path to victory is clear for Gustafsson. He'll look to avoid Manuwa's biggest weapons by getting this fight to the ground, and the Englishman will eventually make a mistake that will leave an opening for a Gustafsson submission.
Gustafsson defeats Manuwa by submission in the second round.