Alexander Gustafsson seems to be of the mindset that he has nothing to gain and everything to lose in a bout with Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
“I have fought both worse and better opponents,” said Gustafsson. “Had that fight taken me somewhere I had been the first to accept.”
Gustafsson was originally slated to challenge Jon Jones in a rematch for the light heavyweight title at UFC 178, but he was forced to withdraw from the fight after tearing the meniscus in his right knee.
With Gustafsson out, the UFC’s itinerary appeared simple enough. Jones would go on to defend his title against undefeated Olympian Daniel Cormier, and Gustafsson would remain the No. 1 contender and fight the winner. But in an ever-changing sport such as MMA, rarely do long-term plans come to fruition without a hiccup.
As fate would have it, Jones also suffered a torn meniscus in his knee, which forced him to withdraw from the bout with Cormier. Being the original “No. 1 contender,” Gustafsson hoped the title opportunity would revert back to him, but he quietly slid into the background of the volcanic feud between Jones and Cormier.
The UFC made the obvious financial decision in sticking with Jones vs. Cormier, which is now scheduled for January 3 at UFC 182.
Speaking with UFC.com, UFC President Dana White claimed that Gustafsson would most likely fight again before competing for the title to stay active. Johnson, who is coming off back-to-back wins over Phil Davis and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, challenged Gustafsson a week ago on Facebook, stating that there was “nobody left to fight.”
Gustafsson obviously disagrees with that sentiment:
Since his return to the UFC after being kicked, he has beaten Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who passed its [expiration] date a long time ago, and Phil Davis. He needs at least a couple wins more. We are not in the playground anymore. It’s not about who is the toughest, it’s about my career. I want to have a long and successful career. You have to think tactically, and you can't just go in and swing against the first best opponent.
After reading Gustafsson’s comments, Johnson responded:
There is no arguing that Gustafsson gave Jones all he could handle nearly a year ago. But one also has to wonder if wins over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Thiago Silva and Jimi Manuwa are that much more impressive than what Johnson has accomplished in the UFC.
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.