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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

Tony Ferguson betting favorite against Kevin Lee in UFC 216 main event

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A nine-fight win streak and fight fans’ preference to see strikers win out over grinders might be why Tony Ferguson is such a big favorite against Kevin Lee at UFC 216.

Ferguson is the -225 betting favorite with Lee coming back at +175 as they meet for the interim lightweight title at UFC 216 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

As noted, Ferguson has won his last nine bouts, ending six early for a nice 66.7 percent rate. For his part, Lee has won five consecutive bouts, ending four early.

Ferguson prefers to work at distance with jabs and kicks, gradually chipping away at his opponent. The 33-year-old is a more well-rounded fighter than the 25-year-old Lee, so laying chalk is justifiable since this bout could go either way.

There is a good case to take Lee and the plus money, though. Lee is far beyond the typical lightweight in how often he attempts takedowns and how often he winds up gaining control. Succeeding in that strategy would leave Ferguson unable to use his best assets.

Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson (-1200) is a massive favorite against Ray Borg (+700). Johnson is simply too complete a fighter to lose against a boxer-wrestler type such as Borg, but Borg has a great ability to get off of his back and will make Johnson work for the win. Eleven of the last 14 UFC fights (78.6 percent) in which one fighter was a favorite of -1200 or more ended with a stoppage, and based on form Johnson should extend the trend.

The potential upset on the main card involves the heavyweight tilt between former champion Fabricio Werdum (-260) and Derrick Lewis (+200). Werdum’s weakness is his striking defense and Lewis has secured 16 of his 18 career MMA wins via knockout, which seems like a lethal combination in Lewis’ favour. Werdum’s chances of winning likely rest on him wearing Lewis down or getting a takedown that sets up a submission.

As well, Beneil Dariush (-240) is favored against Evan Dunham (+190) on the UFC 216 odds in a lightweight bout that is likely to be heavy on grappling, increasing the possibility of it going the distance. Four of Dariush’s last eight fights were decided by a decision, while Dunham’s four-fight win streak consists entirely of victories by decision.

As long as Dariush stays aggressive in the stand-up game – and he likely won’t have to worry about walking into a devastating punch against a grinder like Dunham – he should be able to get the win.

And Kalindra Faria (-200) is favored against UFC newcomer Mara Romero Borella (+160), a replacement opponent who took the fight after  Andrea Lee was pulled out for not having an up-to-date anti-doping clearance.

Faria is the more seasoned fighter and her ability to throw combinations has helped her score knockouts in more than half of her 18 career professional wins. Romero Borella is undefeated in her last six fights, but prior to that was finished by strikes in three consecutive fights, so there’s potential for an early ending.

UFC 214: Jones heavy favorite against Cormier in co-main event

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If one believes a long hiatus from the Octagon benefits a fighter’s mystique more than technique, then the price might be right on Daniel Cormier.

Ahead of the most fervently anticipated rematch in the company’s history, Jon Jones is a -260 favorite against the +200 underdog Cormier in the co-main event for UFC 214 on Saturday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The fight, which will top off a loaded main card at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, has been in the offing since about 30 seconds after Jones won an unanimous decision against Cormier early in 2015, but Jones’ doping suspension has prevented it from happening.

The prices have moved in Jones’ favor since he opened at -150 with Cormier coming back at +120. Before the layoff, Jones was perhaps the best fighter to ever grace the UFC and it’s understandable why fans believe he’ll use his long reach to keep Cormier at bay and get him in the clinch.

Cormier backers, though, can take heart in the belief that his takedown defense could be sharper than it was against Jones 2 1/2 years ago. The bottom line is it’s rare to get a champion at such a high price.

In the co-main event, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (-205) is favored against challenger Demian Maia (+165). Maia, who is plus money for the first time since 2014 (a bout that he lost to Rory MacDonald in a unanimous decision), is singleminded about getting a match to the mat in order to work toward a submission.

If Woodley can keep his focus on his takedown defense and keep the fight on their feet, his edge in athleticism and youth might prove to be the determining factor.

The prices for the women’s featherweight title fight between Cristiane (Cris Cyborg) Justino (-1100) and challenger Tonya Evinger (+650) underscore the difficulty Cyborg has finding a foe.  Cyborg has ended her last seven fights early, five in the first round. It might be better to pore over the odds on how many rounds Evinger, a solid wrestler, can hang in for during a fight that she accepted on relatively short notice.

Robbie Lawler (-160) is a slight favorite against Donald Cerrone (+130) in a twice-rescheduled welterweight matchup. It’s hard to know what to expect from Lawler, who’s been set back by injuries since his last fight against Woodley exactly 52 weeks ago. Cerrone is often vulnerable against left-handers such as Lawler, but takes an edge in stamina into what shapes up as an all-out brawl.

The main card starts off with a light heavyweight title eliminator, where Jimi Manuwa (-190) is favored against Volkan Oezdemir (+150). Manuwa, who is on a three-fight win streak, is the more developed and technically proficient of the two strikers. That might give him the edge against Oezdemir. It could be a quick resolution either way – Manuwa has 10 first-round knockouts in 17 pro fights, while Oezdemir has a powerful left hand and ample motivation to get a knockout and score a fight-of-the-night bonus.