Alexander Gustafsson has begun to drift toward irrelevance—a trend that would have been unthinkable not all that long ago.
The three-time Ultimate Fighting Championship title challenger finds himself on a three-fight losing streak after he submitted to an armbar from Fabricio Werdum in the first round of their UFC on ESPN 14 encounter on July 26 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Gustafsson moved to heavyweight in an attempt to change his luck, but his tailspin only deepened in a failed divisional debut. The 33-year-old Swede has not tasted victory in more than three years, muddying his immediate future.
As Gustafsson ponders his future, a look at a few of the rivalries upon which his reputation was built:
Gustafsson had two memorable bouts with “Bones” Jones. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jones retained his light heavyweight crown with a unanimous decision over Gustafsson in the UFC 165 headliner on Sept. 21, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. In what was later named Sherdog’s “Fight of the Year,” all three judges scored it for Jones: 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46. Gustafsson gave the champion all he could handle. He cut Jones over the right eye in the first round with a glancing blow, and the cut grew into a gash over time, the Swede scoring with repeated multi-punch combinations to the head and body. After 25 minutes, Jones was bloodied and swollen, but he had answered the first serious challenge of his career. Gustafsson became the first man to take down Jones in the first round. More importantly, he stuffed 10 of the champion’s 11 takedown attempts. Trapped on the feet, Jones absorbed more punishment than he had in any of his 19 previous professional bouts. However, he sprang to life in Round 4, where he badly stunned Gustafsson with one of his patented spinning elbows. In the fifth, with both men clearly exhausted, Jones scored with his only takedown and unleashed a series of head kicks that likely secured the victory.
Their rematch five years later was much ado about nothing, as Jones put away Gustafsson with punches at UFC 232 and brought a decisive close to their rivalry.
Gustafsson’s hands were far too much for Teixeira at UFC Fight Night 109. (Photo: Getty Images)
Gustafsson showed once again he could swim in the deep waters of the light heavyweight division, as he dispatched Teixeira with a volley of uppercuts and a right hook in the fifth round of their UFC Fight Night 109 main event on May 28, 2017 at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. Teixeira bit the dust 67 seconds into Round 5, the crowd roaring its approval for its beloved Swede. It was never competitive. Gustafsson picked apart the former Shooto Americas champion from the outside, smashing him with power punches and standing elbows. Teixeira was rocked on more than one occasion and fought on despite being battered and bloodied. The right uppercut was the weapon of choice for Gustafsson, who routinely snapped back his counterpart’s head with the punch. Early in the fifth round, he fired off three of them in succession. All three landed and had Teixeira on unsteady footing. A clean right hook from “The Mauler” sent the Brazilian crashing to the canvas and prompted referee Marc Goddard to act on his behalf.
“Lionheart” submitted Gustafsson with a rear-naked choke at UFC Fight Night 153. (Photo: Getty Images)
Smith’s unlikely Cinderella run continued against one of the few men to give the aforementioned Jones a legitimate run for his money, as “Lionheart” submitted Gustafsson with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round of their UFC Fight Night 153 headliner on June 1, 2019 at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. Gustafsson raised the white flag 2:38 into Round 4. The fight appeared to be there for the taking before the finish. Gustafsson outstruck his well-traveled counterpart across the first 15 minutes—he did so by a 38-15 margin in Round 3, where he also executed his only takedown—but saw his situation unravel in the fourth. There, Smith bullied his way to a takedown, advanced to the back and flattened out the Swede. A series of ferocious elbows and punches followed, setting the stage for the choke. An immediate hush fell over the crowd.