Five years ago, Alexander Gustafsson was on the bitter end of a razor-thin decision. The towering Swede lost an epic five-round contest to Jon Jones, the then light heavyweight champion and one of MMA’s all-time greats. He would’ve been the first – and only – to defeat Jones (other than by disqualification) and it’s hard to imagine Gustafsson hasn’t been plagued by a Sliding Doors scenario since. Still, he remains Jones’ biggest challenge to date.
Speaking with media at the UFC Performance Institute on Thursday, Gustafsson appeared utterly determined to rectify that first fight.
“It’s been five years since we fought and it’s just a fight I’ve been wanting for a long time, and dreaming about, and training for, all this time. I’ve been training and competing for just this fight.”
Since the fight with Jones, “The Mauler” has struggled to remain atop the light heavyweight division despite Jones being suspended for much of that time. Between three victories, he was knocked out by Anthony Johnson and dropped a split decision to dual light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. He’s been sidelined multiple times due to injuries, including the most recent stretch which has meant he hasn’t competed since May last year.
“It’s been tough from time to time but I think this lay-off I had now for one-and-a-half years [has] just been good for me. I’ve just been training my ass off. I’m a much better fighter today than I was when I fought Glover (Texeira) and I just feel great. And like I said before in other interviews, if people wanted this fight, if this fight should happen, it should happen now because I’m never gonna be this ready as I am right now.”
Jones, 31, has competed four times since and somewhat surprisingly, considering his subsequent USADA suspensions, has fought more recently than Gustafsson. “Bones” last fought in May last year where he knocked out Daniel Cormier with a head kick. Although that result was ultimately overturned to a No Contest after Jones failed a drug test, his portfolio of work remains one of the best MMA has ever seen.
At UFC 232 next weekend, Gustafsson hopes to uproot that legacy and take it for his own.
“I’m here to takeover. I’m here to take Jon Jones’ place in the rankings, in the history of the sport. I want what he has. I want people talking about me as [they are] talking about him. That’s why I’m doing this.”
“I’m 31-years-old and it feels like I just started this. I feel like I got so much motivation and to show everybody that it wasn’t the best me out there when I fought them (Jones and Cormier). I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready for Jon back in 2013, or DC 2015. It’s my time now and I’m ready, I’m more than ready and I will show everybody on the 29th.”
UFC 232 takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, next Sunday, December 30 (AU).