With champion Daniel Cormier heading up to heavyweight to face Stipe Miocic, top light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson has recently been involved in a rivalry with former middleweight champ Luke Rockhold.
The beef initiated when Gustafsson called out Rockhold, who has been hinting at a move to 205 following increasingly hard weight cuts, in the days after his vicious knockout loss to Yoel Romero at UFC 221 in February. Many criticized that move as incredibly bad given Rockhold would likely need a lengthy recovery from possibly the most earth-shaking knockout of 2018 thus far.
But Rockhold hasn’t shied away – quite the opposite.
He’s been in the headline for a litany of topics, and he added onto that by reacting to Gustafsson’s callout by promising he would be ‘coming for that a**.’
As expected, the Swede didn’t take kindly to that, quickly blasting Rockhold for being ‘chinny’ and calling his blaming of the weight cut an excuse. ‘The Mauler’ doubled down on his needling of Rockhold during a recent appearance on The MMA Hour as well, stating that his new rival opened the doors about his divisional shift and he only responded:
“First of all, he’s a good fighter, but he was saying a lot, that it’s easier to fight at 205 and just a lot of stuff.
“It feels like, to him, he was going up in weight just to have an easier fight, more or less, and I just told him that’s not case and here I am. So basically he was the one who started all of this, and I just followed up on it.”
As for his recent callout of Rockhold, who has lost two of his last three fights by way of brutal knockout, Gustafsson said he was only going on historical fact:
“I just go by facts,” Gustafsson said. “That’s all we’ve seen so far. And he thinks an easy thing coming up to light heavyweight, but I’m there to welcome him.”
‘The Mauler’ was thought to have a title shot in the wings after he demolished Glover Teixeira in an amazing match last May, but rising contender Volkan Oezdemir swooped in with three wins in 2017 when Gustafsson had surgery and was rapidly trounced by Cormier in January.
With the light heavyweight title picture uncertain for now as Cormier moves up to heavyweight for at least one bout, the title still remained the only goal of the towering striker.
If a shot isn’t available again, he said he would still settle for Rockhold and then move his focus to the championship:
“For me, it’s the belt basically. That’s my top priority right now because I feel like I’m the No. 1 contender and I’ve been fighting most of the guys in my division. So that’s my top priority. But if that can’t happen, I’m up for suggestions and we’re looking at, for example, Luke Rockhold, and then see if we can [figure] something good out.”
Gustafsson has lost two previous title bids in classic bouts with both decorated former champion Jon Jones and Cormier, and with Jones’ license revoked as he awaits his USADA sanctions for testing positive for anabolic steroids, ‘The Mauler’ doesn’t foresee a rematch with ‘Bones’ anytime soon, even if he wants one:
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“He’s in a tough situation,” Gustafsson said.
“He feels like he’s too far away now. But if somehow he comes back, he has a way and he comes back, that’s also a fight I have to do. We need to do a second round, him and me, but let’s see how it plays out for him.”