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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

Nunes, Pennington carry conflicting betting trends into UFC 224

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All of Amanda Nunes’ wins in her homeland have ended early, but challenger Raquel Pennington has a history of going the distance.

Women’s bantamweight champion Nunes is a -900 favorite on the UFC 224 odds with Pennington coming back at +550, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.  The card is set for Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday.

Nunes is 7-1 when she fights in Brazil, while Pennington is fighting in the country for the first time. Although Pennington has only been stopped once in 22 pro and amateur fights, Nunes’ home-soil advantage could be crucial. Nunes did require a decision during her most recent title defense against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 215 in September 2017.

Bettors looking for value in method-of-victory props will have to decide whether they believe Pennington can duplicate and improve on the techniques Shevchenko employed, or whether Nunes learned some lessons from that fight about being the aggressor with her powerful striking game. If the latter theory pans out, there’s a good chance of a Nunes knockout.

In the co-main event, Ronaldo (Jacaré) Souza (-135) has a three-inch reach advantage over Kevin Gastelum (+130) in a matchup of Top 5 middleweights, as well as home-soil advantage. Souza rates the edge in power and versatility, which might make him too much for Gastelum to handle, setting the table for a submission.

That said, Gastelum’s speed and accurate striking does make it tempting to back him for the win, knowing full well that it’s not the percentage play.

Up-and-coming Mackenzie Dern (-265) takes on Amanda Cooper (+225) in a grappler vs. striker matchup between two women’s strawweight competitors who are each somewhat experienced. Dern has had three of her six wins via submission, which is coincidentally how Cooper has sustained all three of her losses.

Those trends should carry over, presuming that Dern has continued to upgrade her technique in order to get the match to the ground.

John Lineker (-250) is favored against Brian Kelleher (+195) in a bantamweight bout between high-volume strikers. Six of Lineker’s last nine fights have gone to a decision and that trend could continue if he focuses on using his punching power to wear Kelleher down early and get a lead on the judges’ cards. For Kelleher, the matchup might be too big of a step up in caliber.

And Lyoto Machida (-260) is favored against Vitor Belfort (+200) in a middleweight bout between two aging Brazilian fighters, the latter of whom has said this will be his last fight. Stylistically, Machida likely has the edge due to his abilities as a counter-striker, which should enable him to weather the anticipated early onslaught from Belfort, who is 0-4 in his last four fights as the underdog. Machida’s most likely path to victory is through a decision.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

 

Floyd Mayweather to start MMA training ‘soon’

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Floyd Mayweather beat Conor McGregor in the boxing ring back in August. Now, Mayweather is eyeing a turn in the octagon.

The 41-year-old Mayweather, who retired from boxing following his win over McGregor, confirmed to TMZ Sports that he would “soon” begin training with UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley.

Mayweather thinks it will take him less than a year to acclimate to MMA.

“Even if it takes six-to-eight months, whatever it takes, we want to make sure that everything is done correctly, is done the right way,” Mayweather said.

Mayweather doesn’t believe his skill-set will require extensive improvement. He graded his wrestling skills as “probably a seven” out of 10, but he could “take it up to a nine if possible.” His real weakness is kicking, which Mayweather graded as just a four. But his hand game? “On a scale of 1-10, it’s 100.”

Mayweather was hesitant to say who he would face in his MMA debut, though he was asked directly about a rematch with McGregor.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “We can’t say. That’s why I pause, you know?  I can’t really say, you know? I have to talk to my team, speak with my father and then see how it’s gonna play out.”

Like his boxing match with McGregor, Mayweather and his team want “the right numbers and we would make it happen.”