With the recent retirement of Alexander Gustafsson, we now have the chance to review his career in its entirety.
Of course an MMA retirement is rarely sacred, but for now, Alexander Gustafsson is finished, and if we never see him again, he can rest easy knowing that he put together a very successful career filled with great wins and heartbreaking losses. For as good as “The Mauler” was, he will likely always be remembered for his losses more so than his victories. But that doesn’t change the fact that he picked up wins over several of the greatest fighters of his era.
Much like his fellow countryman, Ingemar Johansson who though great, was often overshadowed, Gustafsson had the misfortune of competing at the same time as several of the absolute greats. And while he didn’t beat all of them, he certainly proved that he belonged. Below are five of his greatest fights, regardless of the outcome.
5. Jon Jones 1 at UFC 165 (UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship)
Gustafsson was not to be taken seriously as a challenger in the lead up to UFC 165. While he had looked excellent in victories over Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua, Gustafsson was still a relatively unheralded challenger for the champion, Jon Jones.
Jones had looked unstoppable up to that point, and it showed in the odds going into the fight as he was as much as a -1000 favorite on some betting sites. Much has been said about how hard Jones trained for this fight, but the bottom line is that the result was far from expected. Instead of the one-sided spectacle often presented by Jones, we got a five-round classic.
Gustafsson gave Jones everything he could handle, and to this day some people swear the judges got it wrong that night. But when the dust settled, after a bloody, back and forth war, it was Jones that raised his hands in victory. For the remainder of his career, Gustafsson would be tied to Jones because of this fight. He was the first man to show that Jones is human, and for a long time, it seemed that the only thing keeping Gustafsson going was the shot at a rematch with the champ. He would get it years later, in 2018, but by then Jones was unquestionably the superior fighter.
So while Gustafsson’s greatest fight ended in defeat, it still stands amongst the classics, and it legitimized him as a top light heavyweight contender for years to come.
4. Daniel Cormier at UFC 192 (UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship)
The circumstances that led to Alexander Gustafsson’s second crack at the world championship were different from the first.
While a six-fight win streak would lead to his first crack at the belt, he was actually coming off a loss going into his second. Despite suffering an opening round KO at the hands of Anthony Johnson, Gustafsson was tapped to main event UFC 192 against the recently crowned champion, Daniel Cormier.
Gustafsson was by this point an established veteran, so perhaps it came as no surprise when he brought Daniel Cormier to the brink of defeat, only to ultimately suffer a split decision loss. This marked the second time that Gustafsson had fallen just short of winning the championship.
3. Glover Teixeira at UFC Fight Night 109
Glover Teixeira, much like Alexander Gustafsson, was one of the top contenders in the division for years and is a former challenger to Jon Jones.
By the time Gustafsson and Teixeira clashed, it was a bit later into their respective careers, but we still got a classic. In what is arguably Gustafsson’s most significant victory, we saw the Swedes footwork at its absolute finest. Gustafsson and Teixeira engaged in an epic back and forth fight that saw both men absorb high volume strikes and several potential fight enders before Gus ultimately scored the KO shots in the fifth and final round. This win was the first for Gustafsson in Sweden since 2012, and it would be the win that finally earned him his rematch with Jon Jones.
Defeating Glover Teixeira might just have been Gustafsson’s most notable victory, and it also just so happened to be his last.
2. Jimi Manuwa at UFC Fight Night 37
It’s always challenging to explain the hype that somebody had once that hype has died down. But the hype enjoyed by Jimi Manuwa cannot be overstated.
He was well known before his UFC career for his dominance of the UK light heavyweight scene. He was a prized commodity and turned down the UFC on several occasions before finally making his move. He was 3-0 in the UFC and 14-0 overall when he was matched up in the headlining spot of UFC Fight Night 37, against Alexander Gustafsson. Gustafsson was roughly five months removed from his epic slugfest with Jon Jones, and he was arguably hotter than ever. This was a fight that easily could have spawned the next top contender. But the hype for the contest was perhaps a bit oversold.
Gustafsson dispatched Manuwa in the second round with a wicked combination of punches and knees, becoming the first man to defeat the powerful American-born Brit in the process. Gustafsson would spend quite a bit of time on the sidelines after this fight, and it would be a while before he would experience a high quite like this one again.
1. Cyrille Diabate at UFC 120
Cyrille Diabate may not be the best-known fighter on this list, but this fight makes the cut for several reasons.
Diabate was a great Muay Thai striker, with excellent submissions and years of experience in places such as Pride. During this fight, we saw Gustafsson thoroughly outwork Diabate on the feet. He dropped him with uppercuts in the second round and eventually earned the victory via second-round submission. While the performance was great, it was more so the improvements that we saw from Gustafsson that really makes this fight stick out.
Gustafsson attributed his success to his new training partners at Alliance MMA. Gustafsson trained at Alliance after losing via submission to Alliance fighter Phil Davis earlier in his career. This was the turning point for Gustafsson. We saw a guy lose, force himself to learn from his mistakes, and by doing that he evolved into an elite contender in the UFC for years.