Gustafsson: I’ve Fought Guys Who Hit ‘Way Harder’ Than Daniel Cormier

Troy Taormina for USA TODAY Sports
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Alexander Gustafsson isn’t exactly pumped about the current state of his light heavyweight division.

Thought to be the next rightful contender to champion Daniel Cormier’s throne, “The Mauler” saw a perceived title shot go up in smoke when it was granted to formerly surging challenger Volkan Oezdemir at January’s UFC 220. Cormier dismantled “No Time” with a quickness, and now Gustafsson will face Oezdemir at August 4’s UFC 227 for the expected top spot at 205 pounds.

Yet it won’t guarantee a shot at Cormier even if he does come out on top, because “DC” has teased granting former champ ‘Shogun’ Rua a shot if the Brazilian great can get past Anthony Smith at July 22’s UFC Hamburg before retiring after his heavyweight fight with Brock Lesnar. So Gustafsson may never get his rematch with “DC” after taking him to the limit in a narrow split decision loss at their classic first bout back in 2015.

He’s voiced his frustration with that on social media, but overall, “The Mauler” actually has high praise for his rival. After Cormier knocked out heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic in the main event of last weekend’s UFC 226, Gustafsson expressed his respect for the new two-division champ to Luke Thomas on this week’s episode of The MMA Hour. He wasn’t sure who would win the closely-matched superfight but had a feeling it would be Cormier:

“He did great. I’m impressed. I was impressed by the way he finished Stipe and how he won the fight. I’m very impressed by the guy, he did great.

“I didn’t really have a prediction for that fight because I know it’s a very tough fight to predict, but I had a feeling [that ‘DC’ would win]. ‘DC’ is tough and he’s such a good athlete,”

And even though Gustafsson lost to Cormier at 205 pounds after nearly knocking him out with a hellacious knee, the Swedish star believes heavyweight is the best division for him, as he can eat and enjoy the benefit of his true power while not draining himself to make weight:

“I think he’s better at heavyweight than he is at light heavyweight. I think he’s stronger, he can eat and he doesn’t have to stress about the weight. I think he’ll do even better as a heavyweight. I had a feeling he’d win the fight, but just the way he finished [the fight] — it’s probably the wrong thing to say, but he made it look easy.”

The reason he believes that is because of his experience in fighting Cormier. When they fought at light heavyweight, Gustafsson didn’t believe he hit that hard, adding that he’s fought fighters who hit ‘way harder.’ To him, it was Cormier’s relentless will to keep pushing the pace, a characteristic Gustafsson believed to be the double champ’s best attribute:

“[Cormier’s punching power] wasn’t that bad [when we fought],” Gustafsson said. “I don’t remember him punching me that hard. I’ve been fighting guys that punch way harder, but he’s a very hard worker. He keeps pressuring and he keeps throwing punches. He’s really good with his wrestling and he doesn’t stop working in a fight — I think that’s his biggest strength.”

“The Mauler” hopes to move on and compete for the light heavyweight title soon, and believes an interim version should be created if not having Cormier vacate it outright if he’s going to fight at heavyweight next.

It will all depend on the result of his fight against Oezdemir, of course, so “The Mauler” still has work to do.

Do you want to see him get another shot at Cormier before the champ retires?