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.”