UFC 192 featured a dull main card, but it was saved by one of the best light heavyweight title fights in recent memory. The last time a UFC light heavyweight title bout featured as much intrigue in the cage as UFC 192’s headliner, it was also a fight featuring Alexander Gustafsson. Yet, Gustafsson has to be seeing a tough outlook for his future in the 205-pound division.
Gustafsson took former champion Jon Jones to the limit at UFC 165 and pushed Daniel Cormier to a new level at UFC 192. Although Gustafsson has reaped the benefits of being involved in two incredible title fights, the fact remains that the towering Swede has come up short in multiple title matches. Just like at UFC 165, Gustafsson had his chances to seal the deal at UFC 192 before heading to the judges’ scorecards. He scored a knockdown late in the third round, sending Cormier crashing to the mat after landing a knee to the head of the champion. Cormier managed to survive and would pull away from Gustafsson late on the scorecards.
Not only is it Gustafsson’s second loss in a title fight, but it’s also his second loss in a row. His previous fight was a heartbreaking loss to Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in front of his countrymen. Gustafsson was clearly shaken up by the loss, and it’s not unrealistic to assume that the loss left a mark in Gustafsson’s head. Now, he’ll have another mark left from Cormier handing him his second consecutive loss. It’s new territory for the top contender, who has never lost back-to-back fights.
The consecutive losses are a tough enough mental hurdle for anyone to climb over. It will be an even tougher task for Gustafsson to come back from knowing he was so close to taking the UFC title on two separate occasions. With a huge mental hurdle in front of him, it will be interesting to see how the UFC handles Gustafsson’s career moving forward.
On one hand, all of his losses have come to elite competition. His loss to Phil Davis came early in his career and provided him with the chance to work with Davis down the road to improve his takedowns and takedown defense. His other losses have come to a pair of world champions and one of the hardest hitters in MMA history. It’s not as if he’s dropping fights to guys that are well outside his talent range.
On the other hand, he’s lost two fights in a row and three of his last four. There are only so many times the UFC can trot him out in a high-profile contender’s bout and expect the general public to buy in to the Swede as a viable contender. There’s also only so many times you can send a guy out in high-pressure situations after he falls short in most of those instances. Gustafsson doesn’t strike me as a weak-minded individual, but confidence is a fickle beast, something not easily gained but easily lost.
There’s also the fact that Gustafsson continues to do his training in his homeland of Sweden. While Gustafsson may have brought people in for his camp, UFC commentator Mike Goldberg told the audience at home during UFC 192 that Gustafsson did not travel to the United States like he typically does. It may or may not have made a difference against Cormier, but it will certainly make a difference in the future. It’s completely understandable for Gustafsson to not want to pack up and move to the States. It’s not as if it’s a few hours down the road. However, if Gustafsson wants to take the next step, he needs to be involved in a high-level gym on a full-time basis. Gustafsson came in with the same game plan against Cormier that he used against Jones at UFC 165, but he failed to adjust as Cormier’s pressure game, which proved too much for the Swede. Based upon the audio during the fight, his corner also failed him, as they provided nothing in terms of technical advice and chose to become cheerleaders instead.
Gustafsson is still only 28 years of age, so he still has plenty of time in the MMA game. The wars with Jones and Cormier will surely take some years off of his career, but Gustafsson has avoided taking a great deal of damage outside of these two fights. There’s still a chance he could make another title run, but those hopes are quickly fading. Jones, assuming he returns soon from his suspension, figures to be next in line for Cormier. Ryan Bader, who earned a win against Rashad Evans at UFC 192, figures to be in play for a future title shot as well. Even the aforementioned Rumble could come back into the fold if he can continue to pick up impressive wins. It’s going to take Gustafsson at least two or three victories to become a true title contender again. He already holds losses to three of the best light heavyweights in the world, so there will have to be some careful matchmaking on the UFC’s part.