Former two-time UFC light heavyweight title challenger Alexander Gustafsson thought he had a third title shot locked up when he knocked out Glover Teixeira in the fifth round of their rousing slugfest in Sweden last May.
However, the rise of formerly surging contender Volkan Oezdemir coupled with shoulder surgery for ‘The Mauler’ lead to him being passed over, and when current UFC 205-pound champion Daniel Cormier smothered Oezdemir in the co-main event of UFC 220 this January, yet another roadblock presented itself for the Swedish slugger.
Also on that card, heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic put in a similarly dominant performance over hyped knockout striker Francis Ngannou, paving the way for a high-profile champion vs. champion super fight this July that has once again left Gustafsson out in the cold.
He’s tried to stay relevant on social media, but it’s brought mixed results, as his recent callout of Cormier’s teammate Luke Rockhold, who was recently knocked out by Yoel Romero and teased a move up to 205 pounds, was a little cringe-worthy considering ‘The Soldier of God’ had only put Rockhold’s lights out a few days prior.
So Gustafsson has relegated himself to discussing the Miocic vs. Cormier fight in interviews in hopes of facing the winner, something he did during a recent appearance on ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ podcast (via MMA Mania). In the interview, Gustafsson started with some praise of former heavyweight Cormier, focusing on his win over Josh Barnett in the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix:
“He did good, he didn’t lose as a heavyweight. He is good. He lifted (Josh Barnett) up like nothing.
“This fight against Stipe, if it was against another heavyweight I would probably say Stipe is going to win. But ‘DC’ is a really good heavyweight, so we will see what happens. He is world class, doesn’t take a step back and he is in your face.”
Gustafsson had some praise for Miocic as well, but also focused on Cormier’s toughness before the compliments ended and he added that “DC” had great conditioning for a “fat guy”:
“He’s a badass, but ‘DC’ is such a competitive guy. He goes for it, in tough situations he eats it and comes right back and does what he does, always. And for being a fat guy, that guy is doing five rounds like nothing. So his conditioning is on top.”
That’s about as brazen as the usually respectful “Mauler” gets with his trash talk, yet he’s stepped that part of his game up recently after feeling slighted at being passed over the title shot a second time.
Gustafsson fought Cormier in a narrow split decision at UFC 192 that was one of the best fights of 2015, and he infamously took legendary former 205-pound champion Jon Jones to the limit in their classic match-up back at UFC 165. Since then, however, a series of injuries have derailed Gustafsson’s chances at getting another title shot, even though he’s clearly on the cusp of being champion and could have been twice if only one judge’s card had gone his way in two instances.
He’s going to have to wait a bit longer, and with Cormier planning to retire in less than a year’s time, that shot may never come – at least not against his second greatest rival.
On the other hand, he may have a shot at the belt in Cormier’s final fight, and what a fitting end to one of the sport’s greatest careers that would be.