Alexander Gustafsson came close to beating Jon Jones two years ago, but even though he’s fighting in his native Sweden this Saturday, the MMA odds only have him at around –280 against Anthony Johnson.
First of all, an apology. Yes, UFC Fight Night 59 took place last Sunday, not Saturday. I was on auto-pilot when I wrote our preview, and I apologize profusely for that error slipping through the cracks. Everyone here at the home office is properly embarrassed about it. But we hope you were still able to cash in when Conor McGregor (–975) opened up the proverbial can on Dennis Siver. McGregor is being pointed at UFC 187 in Las Vegas this May for a Featherweight title bout against Jose Aldo. Should be a hell of a fight.
We’ve got a similar situation brewing for the next UFC show – and don’t worry, multiple sources indicate that UFC on Fox 14 will take place on Saturday (5:00 p.m. ET). Although it will be Sunday local time at the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm. The main event features local hero Alexander Gustafsson taking on Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, with the winner going on to face Jon Jones for the Light Heavyweight title. The UFC odds aren’t quite as tilted as they were for McGregor, though. Gustafsson (16-2 lifetime) is pegged at a range between –250 and –285 as we go to press.
Too Swede Me
This seems like a bargain, given how close Gustafsson came to beating Jones when they fought at UFC 165 in Sept. 2013. Despite going into the Octagon as a +660 dog (up from +500 when the MMA odds opened), Gustafsson gave Jones the fight of his life, taking him down for the first time in the champion’s career and opening up a cut above his right eye. Jones was able to rally in the end and win a unanimous decision in what was later named the 2013 Fight of the Year.
In theory, Gustafsson was supposed to get a quick rematch, but you know how these things go. Between intransigence from the Jones camp and a torn meniscus suffered by Gustafsson, Jones ended up fighting Glover Teixeira, and then Daniel Cormier earlier this month. Gustafsson has fought just once since facing Jones, thoroughly beating Jimi Manuwa (+380) by second-round TKO in March 2014.
Meanwhile, Johnson (18-4 lifetime) is back in title contention in his second UFC stint. His first tour of duty ended two years ago when Johnson missed weight for his fight against Vitor Belfort at UFC 142; Belfort won at catchweight with a rear-naked choke in the first round. After working the indies, Johnson returned to the Octagon last April, earning a dominant unanimous decision over Phil Davis (–240) at UFC 172.
Then came that 44-second knockout of Antonio Rogerio “Little Nog” Nogueira (+480) in July. This is the fight most bettors will be picturing when they make their MMA picks this week; Johnson landed a right to Nogueira’s ear 30 seconds into the fight, then followed up with a series of uppercuts that left the veteran on the verge of unconsciousness. Little Nog hasn’t fought since.
Prime of Life
As impressive as that knockout was – it earned Johnson the Performance of the Night bonus – Nogueira had just turned 38 years old, and wasn’t nearly the same fighter who beat the likes of Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem in PRIDE. Gustafsson is in the prime of his career at age 28. He’s also got a three-inch height advantage over Johnson, although the underdog counters with a two-inch reach advantage.
With both fighters excelling at takedown defense, this figures to be mostly a stand-up bout between two strikers; Gustafsson is more mobile and hits with more volume, while Johnson brings more power and more striking defense. We like the hometown boy in this matchup; he’s not as terrifying as Johnson, but that only adds to Gustafsson’s value for our UFC picks. Watch for a victory in the later rounds as Johnson runs out of gas.
Free UFC Pick: Take Gustafsson to win