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Alexander Gustafsson’s golden chance for redemption at UFC 192

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Eight months ago Alexander Gustafsson stood in the center of 30,000 fans at the Tele2 Arena in Sweden and prepared to square off with Anthony “Rumble” Johnson with a guaranteed shot at Jon Jones’ light heavyweight title on the line. This wasn’t just another main event for Gustafsson. It was an opportunity to get another chance at the man who defeated him in what many consider to be 2013’s fight of the year.

It was also an opportunity for Gustafsson to put on a show in his home country. Unfortunately, the only person who put on a show that night was Johnson. Rumble’s vicious power rocked Gustafsson to the core and shattered his dreams of getting a rematch with Jones.

The loss shook Gustafsson to a point where he told a Swedish newspaper that he was contemplating retirement, but now he’s had enough time to gain perspective on what happened that night. It was during this period of self-reflection that he realized that hastily retiring from the sport he loves would not have been the way to go out.

“I was so emotional (after the loss). I was so pissed. That was the only way that I saw it,” Gustafsson told NBC Sports last week during his media rounds for UFC 192. “Now, I wouldn’t go that far. I have the right guys around me to push me in the right directions.”

It took Gustafsson a few weeks of soul searching to finally find the strength he needed to go on, “It was a couple of weeks of hard times. I actually didn’t see the fight for a couple of weeks and then I saw the fight for the first time and realized that I can’t quit like this,” Gustafsson said. “I have to keep going and get those wins back.”

After he finally went back and watched his loss to Johnson in front of his friends and family, Gustafsson realized that he made a set of mistakes that gave Rumble an opening to capitalize on and swing the momentum in his direction.

“I was a very slow starter. It wasn’t really me. I don’t want to take anything away from Anthony Johnson, he saw my mistake and took advantage of it. I was waiting for him to attack.”

Gustafsson is sure to not make the same mistakes when he faces Daniel Cormier for the light-heavyweight title at UFC 192 this Saturday in Houston. Cormier won the vacant title at UFC 187 in May when he defeated Johnson in the third round by submission. After the victory, Cormier didn’t waste any time in calling out Jones, who had been stripped of the title after being involved in a hit-and-run incident in April.

Well, Jones isn’t going to be walking into the cage on Saturday night to face DC in his first title defense. Instead he’ll be facing a 6’5” powerhouse who is looking for a second chance to have gold placed around his waist.

When I asked Gustafsson if there was anything that worried him about Cormier’s arsenal, he wasted no time in answering.

“He’s nothing that I haven’t fought before. I’ve felt some heavy power and I’ve felt some heavy wrestling, so it’s nothing that I haven’t seen before. I know for a fact that I’ve had a great camp and I’ve been pushing my body to new heights. I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m ready for 25 minutes with DC.”

Gustafsson was also quick to note that he would not repeat the counter-attack strategy he deployed against Johnson. “I will definitely be first and take initiative.”

If the man known as “The Mauler” lives up to his nickname and grinds out a win over one of the best wrestlers in the world, he’ll finally be able to touch the gold, which is something he’s been thinking about “every day.”

“It’s an amazing feeling (imagining the title win), but I really can’t touch it until I’ve done it,” Gustafsson said. “It’s one of those things where it’s in front of you because I see myself winning that fight and nothing else.”

In the ever changing landscape of the light heavyweight division, a win by Gustafsson would not only give him the rematches that he wants with Johnson and Jones, it would put him in the driver’s seat to reign atop the division.

“That’s what I’m planning to do.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Kevin Lee Slight Favorite Over Michael Chiesa on UFC Fight Night 112 Odds

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Odds are inching toward parity in the matchup between Kevin Lee and Michael Chiesa that ranks as one of the most anticipated non-title fights of the year in the UFC.

Lee is the -140 betting favorite against the +110 underdog Chiesa at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com in their lightweight division matchup that will headline UFC Fight Night 112 in Oklahoma City. The showdown between burgeoning lightweight division contenders will cap off the card at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday.

Lee, who is 15-2 in the UFC promotion, rates the edge as a striker and also has a strong grappling base that originates from his days as a collegiate wrestler. The 24-year-old has won eight of his last nine bouts, including his four most recent, only one of which went to a decision.

Chiesa has a comparable 14-2 record, which includes a three-win streak with the past two by rear-naked chokes. The older of the two at age 29, he is a crafty scrambler, which probably is an underlying reason for why his price has come down slightly from +115. His work in the clinch could keep Lee from being able to fight on his own terms, which can often cause a younger fighter’s focus to fray.

Whoever wins, it should be a good one, and both will stay high up in the lightweight hierarchy.

The co-main event is a middleweight matchup, with Johny Hendricks listed as a strong -225 favorite on the UFC Fight Night 112 odds against Tim Boetsch (+175). It’s the second fight at the heavier weight class for Hendricks, who seems rejuvenated now that he no longer has to be concerned about cutting weight – and draining his cardiovascular capacity – during the final weeks of pre-fight training.

However, Hendricks’ popularity as an ex-welterweight champion and the way he won his middleweight debut against inconsistent Hector Lombard have driven his price toward a low rate of return.

If Hendricks drops his defense, that might give Boetsch the opening to use his strength and land some massive combinations. While it’s true Boetsch has lost five of his last eight fights, there’s a reason he keeps getting bookings.

Justine Kish (-105) is a small underdog against Felice Herrig (-125) in a women’s strawweight bout that seems likely go the distance, as both have a strong base in kickboxing while neither has big-time punching power. In a toss-up such as this, it might be wise to take the more seasoned fighter, Herrig.

And Dennis Siver (-210) is favored against fellow featherweight veteran BJ Penn (+170), in what is a “last stand” bout for each nearly 40-year-old fighter. Penn has been in the Octagon more recently than Siver, who hasn’t fought since 2014, and also has an edge in punching power and landing significant strikes. Siver might also be the level of fighter that the 38-year-old Penn can beat at this twilight stage of his career.

 

 

Aldo favored at home against Holloway in UFC 212 co-main event

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The scenario at UFC 212 seems like a win-win for Jose Aldo, since he’ll be on home soil against Max Holloway in a fight that reckons to unfold mostly in the stand-up.

Aldo, who’s been known to be choosy about which fights he takes, is set as a -150 betting favorite against the +120 underdog Holloway for their featherweight unification title bout at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The fight will cap off the card at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Aldo has been stopped only twice in 28 career fights, while Holloway has only one loss by submission over 20 fights. While the 30-year-old Aldo might be past his peak in speed, he thrives at slowly revealing his striking arsenal over the course of a fight and will have a slew of time to do so, due to the reduced threat of a takedown.

Holloway, who comes in as the interim champion, has an edge in reach and will certainly go on the offensive. Holloway, who excels at backing up opponents and throwing combinations with his hands, will land some significant strikes. Whether that’s enough to earn a decision remains to be seen.

All 12 scheduled fights feature Brazilian fighters. Since the start of 2016, Brazilian fighters competing on home soil in the UFC are 14-6 against foreign opponents, but only four were plus-money underdogs.

In the co-main event, rising women’s strawweight star Claudia Gadelha (-350) is a favorite against Karolina Kowalkiewicz (+265) on the UFC 212 betting lines. Gadelha has a well-developed takedown defense that might help her with taking the fight to the ground and negating Kowalkiewicz’s striking.

In keeping with the night’s Hawaiian vs. Brazilian theme, Yancy Medeiros (-143) is favored against Erick Silva (+123) in a welterweight bout. Silva picks his spots with his striking and is very accurate, whereas Medeiros is a volume striker to the extent that he lands an above-average number of strikes per minute, but connects less than 35 per cent of time. Playing a patient game could help Silva get the win.

Vitor Belfort (-160) is favored against fellow veteran middleweight Nate Marquardt (+140) even though Belfort has lost three of his last five fights by stoppage (and the other was a no-contest). It shapes up as a tilt where the fighter who lands the first big shot will probably win. Marquardt, 3-7 in his last 10 fights, still has some striking ability and a bit of durability.

Based on each man’s brief track record in the UFC, Paulo Henrique Costa (-280) and Oluwale Bamgbose (+240) could have a quick resolution. Costa is not only 9-0, but none of his fights have gone beyond the first round. All six of Bamgbose’s wins have been decided in Round 1. Bamgbose has shown more vulnerability to strikes, meaning Costa is likely to receive some openings.