Jones Rematch Awaits Alexander Gustafsson If He Bounces Back at Fight Night 109

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2017

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 21:  (R-L) Alexander 'The Mauler' Gustafsson punches Jon 'Bones' Jones in their UFC light heavyweight championship bout at the Air Canada Center on September 21, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

There was a time when Alexander Gustafsson mauled the greatest to ever do it.

With no one expecting much going into UFC 165, the Swede tore into Toronto and beat Jon Jones from pillar to post in a way no one ever had.

He bloodied and battered the champion, repeatedly smashing him with combinations and even scoring a takedown. It wasn’t enough, with Jones digging deep late in the bout to narrowly come out ahead on the scorecards. Nevertheless, a star was born.

Gustafsson had arrived, doing more for himself in his second career loss than he had in his previous 15 victories.

That was nearly four years ago, and on Sunday, Gustafsson returns to action for only the fifth time since the crowning achievement of his MMA career. That such a distinction was earned in an unforgettable loss, and that he has been largely inactive since, is perhaps indicative of his place in the sport.

Because of the shallowness of the light heavyweight class and the incapacity of those lurking on its fringes to move forward, Gustafsson has remained among the top few contenders at the weight since he fought Jones.

This comes despite his being 2-2 since, on the wrong end of Anthony Johnson's thunder and a memorable decision against Daniel Cormier. Gustafsson has dispatched the foes he should in that time, but the wins have been uninspired, more a matter of "when" than "if" based on the caliber of opposition.

There is a case to be made that, coming out of the near-defeat of Jones, The Mauler squandered his prime.

He was as hot a commodity as the promotion had at 205 pounds, with Johnson not even in the UFC and Cormier not even at the weight. He looked like he could be setting up for a run at greatness.

He had size, he was more athletic than most realized, and he appeared to be rounding out his arsenal with an eye on capturing gold.

Instead, what followed was a win over Jimi Manuwa and multiple yearlong layoffs and mixed results, interspersed with talk of retirement.

It was a confounding run, one that left people frustrated that someone with so much potential was treading water.

Yet thanks to the noted shallow division and incapacity of others to rise through the ranks, Gustafsson has a chance to right the ship on Sunday.

Should he beat Glover Teixeira, another man pressed against the glass ceiling of contendership that separates Jones and Cormier from everyone else, Gustafsson may well springboard himself into a rematch with Jones.

Jones will return at UFC 214 to fight Cormier, and with a win, he'll regain the title he lost to his own poor judgment back in 2015. That win would likely provide a runback of the fight everyone loved so much in 2013, as the UFC would surely fancy a chance to pit Jones against the only man to ever challenge him.

It would represent a roundabout way for Gustafsson to get the fight, but he'd get it nonetheless. The best way to excite people about it would be for him to dispatch Teixeira with precision and viciousness, two things that have been agonizingly absent since he poured his heart and soul into the first dance with Jones.

Should he do that, people may be quick to see it and be inspired about his chances against Jones, particularly in light of their first meeting and Gustafsson's reputation for rising to his level of competition.

It remains a formidable challenge, though. In the face of a stretch of fits and starts that is being measured by years, it is hard to know what to expect on Sunday.

Still, the money, fame and opportunity that comes with a shot at Jones might be just the thing to bring Gustafsson out of his shell for the first time in a while. 

That prospect alone makes his upcoming scrap a can't-miss proposition.

     

Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder.

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