Coming off bids to win the light heavyweight title, Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith will look to get back on track when they meet at UFC Stockholm.
Alexander Gustafsson, rightfully so, has become the go-to headliner for UFC events in his home country of Sweden. This Saturday, he will have the honor yet again in Stockholm as he looks to bounce back from a failed bid to win the title back in December. Opposing him is a fighter with similar ambitions as Anthony Smith looks to erase his own loss to Jon Jones from the forefront of his mind as he aims to spoil Gustafsson’s homecoming at UFC Stockholm.
— UFC (@ufc) May 30, 2019
It is natural to wonder if the time has passed for “The Mauler” Alexander Gustafsson. He’s had three loses in chances to win the UFC light heavyweight title, two of those coming against current champion Jon Jones. However, public demand could lead to turnover soon in the division. A rematch between Jones and Daniel Cormier is one of the biggest fights in MMA today. However, Cormier appears on the verge of retirement and there is growing demand for Jones to test himself at heavyweight. Should the top of the division open up, Gustafsson remains in prime position to get back to a title shot.
Notably, Gustafsson has only ever come up short against the best the division has had to offer. Jones, Cormier, and Anthony Johnson are the only fighters to have bested him in the past eight years. His list of victories includes ranked contenders and former champions such as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Jan Blachowicz, and Glover Teixeira. The road to a title shot could very well go through Gustafsson, especially for up-and-coming contenders such as Dominick Reyes and Johnny Walker.
Similar things can be said about Anthony “Lionheart” Smith. The light heavyweight contender was a breath of fresh air when he made his debut in the division last year after a successful run at middleweight. He powered his way to a title shot in March, but came up short in a lopsided contest against Jones. The nature of the loss put a disheartening stop to the momentum Smith had built up, and put him in a precarious position to work his way back up the ladder to the top of the division. Furthermore, he has discussed wanting a break following UFC Sweden. A victory sets him up as a major roadblock for the up-and-coming contenders while a loss could leave him well out of the conversation when he returns.
— UFC (@ufc) May 29, 2019
The fight matches up the power of Anthony Smith against the long, technical striking of Alexander Gustafsson. “The Mauler” should look to use his reach to get in-and-out against Smith and wear him down through the first several rounds. Establishing a jab and volume is crucial to putting pressure on Smith to take more risks early on and getting ahead on the scorecards. Furthermore, forcing Smith to surge forward opens him up to be taken down where the threat of his striking is neutralized.
Smith will need to use powerful kicks to take away the mobility of Gustafsson. Against an opponent with such an incredible reach, being able to deliver damage at long range is key to scoring the upset. As Gustafsson’s mobility becomes compromised, being able to come forward and close the distance will become easier and Smith will have more opportunities to land damaging blows. Defensively, Smith must avoid getting corralled against the fence where the Swede will be able to pick him apart.
A victory for either man sets them up to be both the gatekeeper to the title picture and to stay relevant for a title shot themselves. The aforementioned Dominick Reyes and Johnny Walker are expected to work their way up the rankings in the next several months, and a fight with Gustafsson or Smith would be a great match-up to propel them into a possible fight with Jon Jones for the belt as a main event on pay-per-view.