As the dust settles on a rocky few years for Alexander Gustafsson, he once again finds himself sitting pretty in the UFC light heavyweight division.
Credit some of that good fortune to the puddle-shallow nature of the 205-pound class.
Credit the rest of it to the brutal, 21-minute beatdown Gustafsson handed Glover Teixeira en route to a fifth-round TKO win Sunday at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden, in the main event of UFC Fight Night 109.
The victory likely revives Gustafsson’s dimming title hopes, after he scuffled to 2-3 in his previous five and managed just one fight each year in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
During that stretch, it appeared he might never escape the shadow of devastating, high-profile losses to Jon Jones, Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier—including two in championship bouts.
Now, he’ll almost certainly get one more chance.
Gustafsson exits this victory running neck-and-neck with Jimi Manuwa to see who will challenge the winner of the title rematch between Cormier and Jones at UFC 214. Given the fact Gustafson already holds a second-round knockout win over Manuwa from March, 2014—not to mention The Mauler’s slightly higher profile in the UFC—it seems probable he’ll get the nod if he stays healthy.
That’s a great reversal of fortune for Gustafsson, who had talked openly about retirement following his loss to Johnson in January 2015. As recently as February, 2016, he admitted he was having a hard time staying motivated for top-level competition.
Gustafsson looked determined and sharp against Teixeira this weekend, lashing the 37-year-old Brazilian with a dizzying array of punches, kicks and elbows. Teixeira came into the fight No. 2 on the UFC’s official 205-pound rankings, but exits it looking closer to a middle-of-the-pack contender as his career starts to wind down.
Still, Teixeira made this fight a battle. He never stopped pressing forward and threw his trademark power shots until the moment Gustafsson shut his lights out with three straight uppercuts and a right hook 1:07 into the final stanza.
If this fight ultimately goes down as a turning point for Gustafsson, it will also be remembered for Teixeira’s sheer toughness.
“I hit him with bombs and he just took every shot,” Gustafsson told Fox Sports 1 UFC color commentator Dan Hardy in the cage when it was over. “... But my uppercut worked and I was working my elbows and knees. He’s a great fighter, but it was my day today.”
Gustafsson came to the fight well prepared to counter Teixeira’s hard-nosed offense, which has become a tad predictable since he lost his own title shot against Jones at UFC 172 in April, 2014.
With his 6'4" frame and three-inch reach advantage, Gustafsson opted mostly to keep Teixeira at the end of his rangy punches and kicks. He scored early with jabs and low kicks, but his best weapon proved to be his lashing uppercut, which rocked Teixeira numerous times during the fight.
Gustafsson’s best highlight came with just under three minutes left in the second round, when he wobbled Teixeira using a spinning elbow and then dropped him with a pretty series of follow-up punches. Teixeira weathered it, but the exchange left him badly bloodied and he finished the bout with a possible broken nose and a right eye swelling after an accidental poke in the first round.
When Teixeira did try to close the distance and unload his wining shots, Gustafsson ducked under and sprinted back to the middle of the cage. It was a move he could get away with without suffering too many boos from his Swedish fans.
Despite this occasional refusal to engage, Gustafson continued to pepper Teixeira with shots on his own terms and the performance earned mostly rave reviews:
The impressive victory over Teixeira certainly made for a better homecoming than the one Gustafsson had in January 2015, when he suffered a first-round TKO loss to Johnson at Stockholm’s Tele2 Arena.
That loss provided the lowest moment during Gustafsson’s recent trials, during which he still managed to keep himself in the championship conversation with victories over Manuwa and Jan Błachowicz.
Moving forward, the question will be whether he has or can improve enough to change the outcome in a rematch against either Jones or Cormier.
Gustafsson gave Jones arguably the toughest fight of his career at UFC 165 in September, 2013. In that bout, Gustafsson seemed on his way to winning the title over a listless Jones until the champion rebounded in the late round to sow up an unanimous decision.
Against Cormier at UFC 192 in October, 2015, Gustafsson faired just slightly better, when he forced a split-decision verdict but still came out on the wrong end.
For the time being, this victory sets the stage for him to at least get a shot at some hard-earned redemption.