At long last, it appears Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson might be headed for a collision course.
By "at long last," of course, I am referring to the amount of time that has passed since Johnson went in the Octagon and crushed Antonio Rogerio Nogueira on July 26. Johnson's UFC light heavyweight debut win over Phil Davis back in April was special, and it set Johnson up as someone to watch in a division 35 pounds heavier than the one where he used to ply his trade in the UFC.
But it was Johnson's blitzkrieg of Nogueira that made us stand up and take notice. Nogueira is a man who, despite all jokes to the contrary about his ageless nature, is still a very capable fighter. You simply don't compile a 21-6 record against the kind of competition Nogueira has faced during his career without being capable of pulling out magic.
There was no magic on that night, however. Johnson crushed him, and crushed him quickly. And then we all thought to ourselves: Wouldn't it be interesting to see Johnson face Gustafsson? The lanky Swede was lined up for a title fight, but an injury put him on the shelf.
In a perfect world, he'd sit around and face the winner of Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, but this is not a perfect world, and we are not perfect people. And whether or not you believe Gustafsson deserved his second chance at the belt after beating Jimi Manuwa, there is little question that few of us want to see a top-ranked light heavyweight sit on the shelf for more than a year without competing.
So, yes. Johnson vs. Gustafsson is the thing to do. Johnson thought so, anyway. But yesterday, it looked like we weren't going to get a chance to see the fight, because Gustafsson had a preference for being "smart," sitting around and waiting on his shot:
We are not in the playground anymore. It’s not about who is the toughest. I want to keep (fighting for) a long time to come. You have to think tactically, and so you can’t just go in and (fight) the first opponent.
Johnson wasn't thrilled with the news:
What did I just read? Gus must’ve bumped his head. I respect his opinion but one thing is this. I left the playground a long time ago, I’m on the BATTLEFIELD now!
Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed. Gustafsson took to obscure social networking site Mikz on Thursday to accept the fight, though formal negotiations and bout agreements and such must will be issued and agreed to.
Anthony Johnson, there is no one hiding from anyone here. We are both professional fighters and fighting is what we do for living. I know it is frustrating not getting response when you are challenging someone, therefore, I will not turn you down. I will be fully recovered within a couple of weeks so anytime in January and forward I will be ready to fight you.
This is good news for all fight fans, but especially for Johnson and Gustafsson. "The Mauler" seemingly earned his second crack at Jones because a lot of people thought he beat Jones the first time around. I don't fall into that camp, but I also readily admit I sometimes get judging very wrong. It is very likely Jones vs. Gustafsson falls into the category of the ones I got completely wrong. (They are numerous)
But by facing and perhaps defeating Johnson, Gustafsson will leave no doubt he's the man to challenge the Jones/Cormier winner. It would be an emphatic stamp and a message to the doubters. That's why accepting this fight was the only logical choice he could make, and a win over Johnson will make his eventual rematch with Jones even bigger.
For Johnson, it is a major opportunity. He's easily defeated Davis and Nogueira, and adding Gustafsson's scalp to his wall would be a major coup. And just like Gustafsson, a win for Johnson would silence the doubters and critics who believe he's not capable of beating the best in the division.
Me? I think Johnson is one of the scariest men on the planet. And there's no doubt Gustafsson is an elite fighter.
So let's do this. Let's get it done, and let's put it on the same card as Jones vs. Cormier. It's a natural fit, and it should be one hell of a fight.