Like our esteemed colleague George Shunick, I have never been happier to admit that I was completely wrong in all but writing off Alexander Gustafsson in the weeks leading up to his battle with Jon Jones at UFC 165. And like most of you, I’m still reeling from what was one of the greatest light heavyweight title fights in MMA History and quite possibly the fight of the year, which makes this Armchair Matchmaker piece all the more difficult to construct.
Did Gustafsson get screwed, like Phil Davis would have you believe? Should an immediate rematch be booked between the Swede and the champ? Follow us below to find out what lies in store for Jon Jones and the rest of UFC 165′s biggest winners.
Jon Jones: I might be in the minority here, but I’m going to suggest that the UFC should hold off on booking an immediate Jones/Gustafsson rematch.
Was Jones vs. Gustafsson an unexpectedly close fight with a razor-thin, controversial decision? It’s an opinion largely dependent on how you scored round 2 and whether or not you thought Bones’ spinning elbow in round 4 completely nullified the 4 minute ass-whooping Gustafsson was dishing out until that point.
In either case, we can’t have the UFC going all Frankie Edgar everytime there’s an arguably close title fight. For one, it clogs up a division where there is at least one other contender lying in wait. Secondly, it doesn’t give the UFC a ton of time to emphasize/promote just how great the first fight was and reel in casual audiences for the rematch. There’s a reason Sonnen vs. Silva 2 was the biggest UFC pay-per-view of all time, and it’s not just because Chael talks some good trash. Our ADD-riddled culture may resent the idea of being treated to a good old fashioned slow burn at first, but giving this potential rematch some time to stew will most certainly pay off in the long run.
As for the champ? Feed him Glover Teixeira next like we were promised. The Brazilian’s slow, plodding offensive style plays in direct contrast with that of the Swede’s and should make for an arguably easier fight for Bones to control. Arguably. Jones gets another victory under his belt and some added footage for his highlight reel, the UFC gets some more time to hype up the rematch and us fans get the opportunity to pass along (stolen) videos of Jones/Gustafsson 1 to everyone on our contact lists. To steal a catchphrase from what feels like decades ago: Winning.
Alexander Gustafsson: Obviously, the above scenario we just presented would not be complete without including what’s next for “The Mauler,” whose Twitter account has likely imploded with new follower requests by now. But with Jones taking on Teixeira next (in our falsely-constructed reality), what’s left for the Swede? The answer is simple: A tune-up fight of sorts against a highly-ranked competitor whom Gustafsson should be able to best without too much trouble. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira immediately comes to mind.
After suffering back-to-back defeats in 2010-11, the Brazilian has had a minor surge as of late, defeating former champions Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans in consecutive bouts. Lil’ Nog will be coming off an injury but is skilled enough, well known enough and dangerous enough to keep this fight from entering squash match territory. That being said, Gustafsson’s size, speed and newly-showcased grappling prowess should prove too much for Nogueira. As with Jones, Gustafsson would secure another victory and some potential highlight footage over a solid opponent, as well as solidify his status as the top challenger to Bones’ crown.
Renan Barao: We don’t care if Barao has to show up to one of Dominick Cruz‘s physical therapy sessions and kick “The Dominator’s” cane out from under him; make this fight happen or strip Cruz’s title. Simple.
Brendan Schaub: What can be said about Schaub at this point, really? The man simply doesn’t have the chin to stand with top-level strikers and is clearly afraid to roll with top-level Jitz guys, so who do we place him with? Todd Duffee? Shawn Jordan (should he best Gabriel Gonzaga next month)? The Soa Palelei/Pat Barry winner?
It’s not that Schaub’s toe-twitching D’arce of Matt Mitrione wasn’t impressive…it was. It’s that Schaub has already fought a decent percentage of the UFC’s heavyweight division and has either failed spectacularly against the upper echelon or triumphed spectacularly against the mid-to-low level guys. There was also his “cerebral” win over Lavar Johnson, but let’s just do like everyone else and forget that that fight ever happened. Of the options we’ve presented, the Palelei/Barry winner probably makes the most sense.
Francis Carmont: It’s a good thing that Ben Askren hasn’t been defeated yet (WAIT), because the day he is will be the day that Francis Carmont secures the #1 spot on the “Most Unimpressive Win Streak in MMA” list. His decision victory over Costa Philippou sucked and was rightfully panned by fans and UFC presidents alike — it might have been the first fight in MMA history to feature more battle cries than actual shots landed. Putting aside the fact that Carmont’s previous two victories were controversial snoozefests at best and outright screwjobs at worst, we say Carmont should face Thales Leites next. Both men are ground-fighting aficionados with styles that are anything but fan-friendly, so bury these two on an undercard somewhere and give fans an opportunity to refresh their drinks.
Khabib Nurmagomedov: In direct contrast to Carmont, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s impressive win streak was only validated by his dominant victory on Saturday night. Khabib was given the ultimate grinder in Pat Healy, yet he managed to outgrind (phrasing), outgrapple, outgun and out-Hughes Healy for three straight rounds. A title shot may still be a bit presumptuous for the Russian badass given Josh Thomson and T.J. Grant‘s places in the pecking order, but a fight with fellow top contender Rafael Dos Anjos?!
In case you didn’t get the message, we like that idea. A lot.
Are any of these matchups intriguing you in the slightest, Potato Nation? And who do you think Saturday night’s other winners (Jury, Thomson, Makdessi) should face next?