UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Smith – Preview
The light heavyweight division is moving again. After years of the Jones-Cormier saga, new contenders are finally coming through and getting their shot at the title.
But on Saturday in Stockholm, it will very much be about the veterans trying to remain relevant in the divisions title picture — as the No. 2 ranked Alexander Gustafsson (18-5) is set to welcome the No. 4 Anthony Smith (31-14) onto his home soil in the main event of the evening.
Both fighters will enter the Octagon this weekend coming off losses to the reigning champion Jon Jones, and each contender will be just as desperate to secure a win in order to have a say in terms of what happens next at the top of the division.
Up until not too long ago, Gustafsson was seen as perhaps the only man who may be capable of taking out Jones, especially after Jones stopped Daniel Cormier in their rematch (later ruled a No Contest) in 2017.
“The Mauler” is still arguably the greatest challenger to Jones’ throne to date after their five-round brawl back in 2013, but their rematch at the bottom of 2018 showed that the champ is in a league of his own in the light heavyweight division — and it’s down to everyone else to figure out how to get on his level.
Having not taken excessive damage in his professional career (23 fights), Gustafsson seems like he may be the closest to cracking the formula to dethroning the champion. After losing the decision six years ago, which many argue could have went either way, “The Mauler” had the foundations down to keep improving and eventually come back to put a stop to Jones’ reign.
Unfortunately for the 32-year-old, despite all of his out of the cage troubles, Jones got significantly better since then too, and the Swede was forced to go back to the drawing board after the TKO loss in the rematch six months ago; and the new road to the title starts on Saturday.
“Lionheart” Smith enjoyed a very quick rise to stardom in the light heavyweight division. Since moving up from middleweight in June, 2018, Smith got his hype train rolling by notching up three consecutive stoppage victories, and was quickly granted a title shot as a result.
Smith’s fight against Jones showed, as it has in many cases in the past, that it is no coincidence that “Bones” is regarded as one of, if not the greatest to ever do it. Despite being able to go five rounds with the champ, “Lionheart” never looked like too much of a threat in there, and the manner of Jones’ victory was arguably more down to Jones never getting out of first gear, rather than Smith posing that much of a challenge.
But with that being said, Smith can now say that he has been in there with the champion for 25 minutes. He now knows what it feels like, and what he needs to do in order to be more competitive, adding a little extra incentive to his fight against Gustafsson.
Evidently, both contenders have a lot to fight for once the cage locks on Saturday.
With the home court advantage (6-1 in his pro career when fighting in Sweden), Gustafsson will be determined to show out in front of the passionate Swedish fans, and to prove that he is still the man who can ask Jones the toughest of questions.
For Smith, it gets a little deeper than that. The level of opposition which “Lionheart” went through on route to his first title shot has often been questioned, and as much as Saturday will be about staking his claim for another title shot, it will also be about proving that he belongs up there at the top of the division, among the world’s best.
Win, lose, or draw, all roads in the light heavyweight division lead to Jones, who is likely not going anywhere in the foreseeable future. All the other fights in the division are very much eliminators that determine who is the most suited to come for the king next.
Having both fought Jones already, there is an argument to be made for whoever wins Saturday’s main event, that they are the most equipped to go back in there with the champ. But regardless of who wins, this top five bout looks to be as exciting as they come in the light heavyweight division.
Sports journalist currently based in CA, USA.