Rising UFC light-heavyweight star Jimi Manuwa has been both blessed and cursed at the same time, by the promotion.
Today the UFC has announced that the six foot, 205-pound British fighter, has been booked as the (scratch) replacement opponent to Alexander Gustafsson, at the UFC’s March 8 event at London’s O2 Arena.
The booking is a blessing for Manuwa in the sense that the 33 year old “Poster Boy” has only been in the UFC 14 months, has only three fights and wins to his credit in the promotion, and more importantly, is unranked within his division.
Truly, this fight is manna from heaven for Manuwa and an unbelievable opportunity to take a massive leap in the light-heavyweight division. And not only that, but to win this fight would most likely garner him the same benefit it would Gustafsson, and that’s a title shot.
Of course, the curse of the booking is quite literally who it’s against; Alexander Gustafsson.
“The Mauler” is a heck of a step up in talent for the Poster Boy and at 6’5”, defeating the taller and highly mobile, skilled and tough Swede, won’t be easy. Further, as Manuwa relies so much on his stand-up game and KO power to win his matches, he might be in some trouble Gustafsson, as the Mauler has never been KO’d.
Further still, Poster Boy will be going up against a fighter that has ever improving wrestling skills and a solid ground game. As such, Gustafsson won’t be timid about taking the fight to the ground, should he wish or feel the need.
As to whether or not Manuwa deserves or has earned the fight, it could be argued both ways.
Yes, Poster Boy has an impressive record, sitting at 14 & 0 professionally and with an astonishing 100% finishing rate; 13 KO / TKO & 1 submission. However, he’s beaten no one of particular note at 205 and by any reasonable account, has not earned a fight with the number one ranked Gustafsson.
That said, he’s a proven finisher, he won’t look out of place in the ring with Gustafsson and as he’s a hometown boy, it’s an easy fight to sell to the British fans. More to the point, as the UFC needs a replacement for the injured Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, a local fighter such a Manuwa makes for a great selection. Again, it’s an easy fight to sell.
Beyond that, it’s a fight that’s low enough down the rankings, that it shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge to Gustafsson, thus (hopefully) securing the UFC’s prized Jones / Gustafsson re-match, possibilities. However, should Manuwa beat Alexander he'll prove just how good he really is, and that’s something that the UFC probably wouldn’t mind seeing demonstrated. Also, as Manuwa can afford a loss to the Mauler, this really does become a win / win situation for all parties concerned.
Finally, the match maintains the UFC’s policy of trying to put on the most exciting fights that they can and ones the fans want to see. Based on that criteria and given that a lot of fans have been impressed with Jimi Manuwa’s power and would probably like to see a Gustafsson / Manuwa bout, it would be easy to believe, that all things considered, that fans will welcome the news of this match, and that few will question whether or not the Poster Boy earned it. And of course, wouldn't it be interesting if Manuwa could accomplish that which Jon Jones could not.
Outer Photo: Tom Szczerbowski for USA TODAY Sports