Alexander Gustafsson wants another crack at UFC gold. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Alexander Gustafsson in September came oh so close to wresting the light heavyweight crown from Jon Jones, who had looked nearly invincible up to that point. Heading into their UFC 165 showdown, Gustafsson’s main selling point was his height and reach, but he was not well-known to casual fans. After 25 minutes with “Bones” in Toronto, a potential rematch with the champion could be one of the most anticipated bouts of 2014.
Before any of that can happen, Gustafsson must dispatch a hungry, talented and relatively unknown challenger in the UFC Fight Night 38 headliner on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. While Jimi Manuwa is far from a household name, he has an impressive track record for finishing and should be able to draw inspiration from fighting in front of a supportive English fan base. Gustafsson should know just how dangerous a talented underdog can be, as he just finished playing a similar role.
Here is a closer look at UFC Fight Night 38, with analysis and picks.
Light HeavyweightsAlexander Gustafsson (15-2, 7-2 UFC) vs. Jimi Manuwa (14-0, 3-0 UFC)
Gustafsson’s movement and versatile offense never looked better, as he landed punching combinations to the head and body, low kicks and even became the first person in Ultimate Fighting Championship competition to take down Jones.
Perhaps even more significant, he defended 10 of Jones’ 11 takedown attempts; wrestling was where the champion was initially believed to have his greatest advantage.
What UFC 165 showed was that while Gustafsson had for the most part looked impressive in his first eight Octagon appearances, he was nowhere near his ceiling. To earn the highly anticipated rematch with Jones, who has business of his own to tend to against Glover Teixeira in April, Gustafsson will have to defeat Manuwa, a largely unproven but talented opponent who will be fighting on his home soil.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was the original UFC Fight Night 38 opponent for Gustafsson, and while the Brazilian is a bigger name, Manuwa might be the more interesting foe. Nogueira has battled injuries throughout his UFC tenure and has rarely resembled the fighter he was in his Pride Fighting Championships heyday. Manuwa, meanwhile, appears to have plenty of untapped potential. The 34-year-old Englishman is a quick study, having started MMA at 28. He is also a fearsome specimen capable of authoring a spectacular finish. His three-bout UFC tenure has been bizarre, with each of his opponents falling victim to injury during the fight. However, it should not be overlooked that Manuwa was winning each of those contests before they were halted.
“Poster Boy” will be five inches shorter than Gustafsson, but he has a decent reach for his height. While FightMetric shows that Manuwa has a three-inch reach advantage on the Swede, Gustafsson has previously stated that his official reach is 82.5 inches, not 76.5 inches. Either way, he proved against Jones that he can handle himself against a rangier opponent.
Manuwa does not possess the toolbox of Jones, but the power in his hands is arguably greater. He has a solid jab, but the lead left hook is his go-to punch. In addition, Manuwa utilizes overhands, uppercuts, knees and kicks to the legs, head and body. His boxing is his strength, but he throws everything with serious intent.
Gustafsson is not likely to stand in front of his powerful adversary for any significant period of time. He has a good grasp of movement and angles, and he will circle out of danger as Manuwa pursues. The Brit will have to pace himself, as he has yet to see a third round as a professional, and this fight could potentially go 25 minutes. If Manuwa fatigues, Gustafsson might look to implement takedowns more frequently. He can also counter Manuwa’s kicks, especially those to the legs, because the ex-British Association of Mixed Martial Arts competitor often throws them without a setup.
The Pick: Manuwa will be at his most dangerous in the first 10 minutes. However, Gustafsson has already shown he is a skilled tactician in the cage. As time goes forward, Swede will continue to land with more volume, eventually winning via TKO or setting up a submission in round three or four.
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