5. Gustafsson vs. Phil Davis (UFC 112)
In just his tenth pro MMA fight, Alexander Gustafsson took on accomplished wrestler Phil Davis in Abu Dhabi. Gustafsson was known primarily as a kickboxer who used his long reach to keep opponents at bay while he pummeled them. Davis was one of the most talented college wrestlers to join the UFC and had a dangerous submission game. Gustafsson was quick to work his striking against Davis, but Davis was able to take Gustafsson down. Once the fight hit the ground, it was all Davis who worked some ground and pound before locking in a tight anaconda choke. Despite Gustafsson losing via submission, the loss drove Gustafsson to look at training camps beyond his native Sweden. He would eventually take up shop at Davis’s own camp, Alliance MMA in San Diego. The work with Alliance head coach Eric del Fiero would show and Gustafsson’s abilities grew exponentially.
4. Gustafsson vs. Thiago Silva (UFC on Fuel 2)
In the UFC’s first trip to Sweden back in 2012, it was expected that native son Gustafsson would headline the event. His first opponent was Antonio Rogerio Nogueira who would later drop out due to injury. Taking his place to fight Gustafsson would be Thiago Silva, a dangerous fighter who had only lost to Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. It was believed that if Gustafsson could beat Silva, he could crack into the top ten of the light heavyweight division. The fight was expected to be competitive as Silva was a heavy-handed brawler with a BJJ black belt as well. When the fight began, it was clear Gustafsson was on another level than Silva. Gustafsson dropped Silva early in the first round and cut him badly. The rest of the fight would consist of Gustafsson utilizing his jab and avoiding Silva’s right hook. The result was a clear-cut decision in Gustafsson’s favor in front of an energized hometown crowd.
3. Gustafsson vs. Shogun (UFC on Fox 5)
Following his win over Thiago Silva, Gustafsson was set to fight MMA legend Mauricio Rua in Seattle. Rua was coming off wins over Brandon Vera and Forrest Griffin, as well as a Fight of the Year decision loss to Dan Henderson. Gustafsson was believed to be close to a title shot, but he would need a big win over a big name to do so. Many experts felt that Gustafsson would be a future contender, but the fight against Rua would be too much and too soon. Gustafsson would prove them all wrong and would dominate Rua over three rounds. The Swede’s massive reach would play a very important factor once again and he would drop Rua early in the first round. He would utilize the jab again and land a number of takedowns on Rua to clinch a dominant decision win.
2. Gustafsson vs. Daniel Cormier (UFC 192)
Gustafsson’s second title shot in the UFC would come against a different champion than the first, but it would result in another war. Gustafsson would hold the height and reach advantage over champion Daniel Cormier and Cormier would bring ridiculous KO power and Olympic wrestling to the table. Each man pushed the other to their limits and a case could be made for either man winning the decision. Gustafsson would manage to drop Cormier in the third round with a well-timed knee/left hook combo and opened a very deep cut on Cormier’s face. Gustafsson would also hold Cormier to only one takedown in the fight, but he was not prepared for Cormier’s clinch game and dirty boxing. Despite losing an uber-close split decision, Gustafsson would continue to cement his place at the top five in the division.
1. Gustafsson vs. Jon Jones (UFC 165)
Gustafsson was picked to fight Jones for the title following his defeat of Shogun Rua in Seattle. Many believed Gustafsson was a formidable fighter but was nowhere near Jones’ level. Much publicity was made pre-fight over Gustafsson’s reach compared to Jones’ but experts waved it off as hype from the promotion. When the actual fight came, everyone was shocked at how close the result truly was. Both men used their long arms and legs to batter each other at range. Gustafsson got the better of Jones in the first two rounds with crisp boxing. Jones would dig deep and come back in the fourth round where he battered the Swede with brutal close-range elbows. A late rally in the fifth from Jones would seal the fight for the champion but both men gained a ton of respect in the eyes of the fans. The fight was seen as Fight of the Year by nearly everyone who had the pleasure of viewing it and Gustafsson showed he was here to stay as a staple in the light heavyweight division.
(Matthew Peterson is an MMATorch contributor who has been a fan of MMA since he first watched UFC 100. He currently resides with his wife in St. Cloud, Minn. He believes that Chris Lytle was God’s gift to fight fans and Cowboy Cerrone comes in at a close second. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @mattpete1088.)