In this, the first of our two-part interview with Alexander Gustafsson, he spoke to us about his UFC 232 rematch against the dominant light-heavyweight force that is Jon Jones.
It was a fight over five years in the making, a fight that stood as the long-awaited opportunity to see how the seemingly untouchable Jones would handle a second test against the man who gave him by far his toughest fight.
Their first meeting back at UFC 165 was incredible for two simple reasons.
Firstly, there is nothing quite like watching your expectations flip on their head in real-time.
Those in-the-know did, of course, suspect that Gustafsson’s technical ability, size, and athleticism would prove to be an interesting test for the champion, who up until that point, had towered over virtually everyone he had shared the octagon with.
But no-one could have predicted how tightly-contested this fight actually would be.
Jones had only looked human in moments during his original rise and eventual title reign and yet, that night, in front of a packed Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, for twenty-five minutes he looked like a man who could well be beaten.
The second reason, of course, was that it was one of the greatest fights of both the year in question and the history of the promotion – the perfect package, with stakes as high as we’ve ever seen in the sport.
So naturally, when the rematch was booked for UFC 232 late last year, the levels of anticipation surrounding the event were only helped by the increasingly dramatic and convoluted narrative that had followed the story of Jon up until that point.
When all was said and done on December 29, there was the sense that the sequel could not have been any further from what transpired in the original.
It was a technical clinic from Bones from start-to-finish, a fight that saw The Mauler left completely neutralised from the opening bell all the way to the brutal third-round TKO finish that ended it.
Speaking to us here at Pundit Arena, Gustafsson explained how a low-blow from the champ in the opening thirty seconds left him completely unable to fight his fight from there on out.
“No, I don’t take anything from that fight really. He hurt me early in the first-round, he shut me down with that knee and after that I just pressured him for three rounds. I don’t take anything from that fight, it is what it is. It’s in the past now.
“I couldn’t really work footwork or anything. I just pressured. Pressure, pressure, pressure.
“It’s Jones. You have to be 100%. You have to be ready for this guy and after that knee, it just shut me down basically.”
The fight was briefly halted to allow Gustafsson time to recover from what was clearly a knee to the groin from Jones but the Swede decided to re-engage within seconds of being afforded that liberty.
Whether it was the excitement of finally earning the opportunity to dance with an old foe once again or the sheer frustration of the fight being paused so early, Gustafsson could not wait to get things going again.
From there, the bout was never overly competitive and with that win, Jones was able to kickstart the new era of his thoroughly dominant career.
Gustafsson, on the other hand, will hope to get himself back into the win column with a victory over the champion’s most recent conquest, Anthony Smith, in his hometown of Stockholm, Sweden.
With that fight pushed to the forefront of his thoughts, he made it perfectly clear that his focus is on regaining some of the consistency that has perhaps eluded him in recent years.
“You know, I don’t really care so much about the title anymore honestly. I’ve been there three times now, I just want to take a couple of steps back and fight whoever, whenever, wherever and get those W’s and just see what the future brings to me.
“If I get another shot at the title, I will embrace it but I’m not thinking about it now or stressing. I just want to focus my whole energy on Anthony and my future opponents.”
Alexander Gustafsson will return on Saturday in the UFC Stockholm main-event to face the powerful contender Anthony Smith – a fight that he broke down in greater detail in the soon-to-be-released second part of our interview.
Read part two here.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena