UFC Stockholm: Gustafsson vs. Smith Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card, set to take place in Stockholm, Sweden.
Updated: May 30, 2019 • 6:36 PM ET
Alexander Gustafsson is looking to work his way back to another title shot.
No. 2 ranked light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson will return to the Octagon this Saturday in his home county of Sweden to face No. 4 Anthony Smith at UFC Fight Night.
Gustafsson will try to rebound from a knockout loss to Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title at UFC 232 in December. It was the second time Gustafsson has unsuccessfully challenged Jones for the belt, while he also unsuccessfully challenged Daniel Cormier for the title in 2015. While not fighting against Jones or Cormier, Gustafsson has looked like one of the best light heavyweights in the world — another convincing win this weekend would only serve as a reminder.
Gustafsson is the only fighter who has pushed Jones to the brink of defeat, which came in a hard-fought, five-round war at UFC 165 in 2013 in their first fight. Meanwhile, the loss to Cormier was another five-round battle that Gustafsson lost by split-decision at UFC 192. After a convincing loss to Jones in his last fight, Gustafsson needs to rebound in a major way this weekend.
The 6-foot-5 Swede says he has moved on from his most recent loss and is looking forward to fighting a worthy contender such as Smith.
“I actually wanted to fight earlier than this, but this was just the next one for me,” Gustafsson said on an episode of The MMA Hour. “So, I’m in training, I’ve been training for a while now and I had some time off after the Jones fight and I just healed up, and now I’m ready to go. And it’s in my hometown too, so it can’t be better than this. All the other shows [at the Ericsson Globe] have been a success.”
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Gustafsson has key victories over Glover Teixeira, Jan Blachowicz, Jimi Manuwa, Mauricio Rua, Thiago Silva and Vladimir Matyushenko. It would be difficult for the 32-year-old to get a fourth title shot in the near future, especially while Jones is the champion. However, if he keeps winning against top contenders, he’ll always remain a threat to challenge for the belt.
With a win against Smith, who was the last fighter to challenge Jones for the title at UFC 235, Gustafsson can remind everyone that he’s still as dangerous as ever.
“[Smith] just had a fight, he’s in shape and he showed some heart in his last fight with Jon, so I think it’s a good matchup for the fans and they will see a really good fight,” Gustafsson said. “He has some good skills on his feet and good grappling too, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Smith had an admirable run leading up to his title shot against Jones at UFC 235 in March. He made the move from middleweight to light heavyweight and won three straight by defeating former champion and UFC Hall of Famer Rashad Evans, former champion and future Hall of Famer Mauricio Rua and former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir.
Smith went the distance with Jones, but never put the champion in any real danger. He’s ready to remind his critics and the rest of the light heavyweight division that the title shot was well-deserved.
"They just need to have an adjustment to me being here," Smith said via the Daily Star. "And that’s not going to change. I’m not going anywhere.
"And that’s the message I’m going to send on June 1. I’m at the top of the division, I’m in the top five and I’m the future there."
The 30-year-old Smith is 7-3 in the UFC and has fought professionally since 2008. A victory over Gustafsson would be the biggest of his career and put him right back on the path toward another possible title shot.
Update: Ilir Latifi has withdrawn from the bout with Volkan Oezdemir due to injury.
Saturday’s co-main event will also be a light heavyweight fight between Volkan Oezdemir and Ilir Latifi.
Oezdemir badly needs a win after losing three straight. He challenged Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight title at UFC 220 in January 2018, but was defeated by TKO in the second round. Oezdemir followed that loss with a third-round submission defeat to Smith in October and most recently suffered a split-decision loss to rising contender Dominick Reyes in March. The losses have moved him to 3-3 in the UFC after surging onto the light heavyweight scene in 2017.
Oezdemir has had trouble getting fights in the United States due to visa issues resulting from a 2018 felony battery case in which the charges were later dismissed. Because of the struggles fighting in the U.S., he decided to take a fight against a former training partner and friend.
“I trained with Ilir in 2011, my first time I was in the U.S.,” Oezdemir told MMA Fighting’s Eurobash podcast. “We trained together for five weeks, we really hit it off. We’ve stayed friends and we talk from time to time.
“I was eager to fight because it was my third fight that I lost in a row. All because of my visa situation, I cannot fight in the U.S. right now. I need to fight on the European show, and I wanted to get back on track because I was really feeling disgusted by the outcome of my last fight. So, I told the UFC I really wanted to fight in Stockholm; [the event] was two or three months away from my last fight. They told me the only possible opponents for this matchup were Ilir and Manuwa, and I’ve beat him already anyway. The choice turned out to be Ilir.”
Oezdemir continued, “I’ve been fighting guys that I’ve trained with, but I’ve actually trained with them twice, so it wasn’t really a big thing. It’s going to be a bit different; it’s going to be a different mindset going into the fight. I have no hatred towards him; just respect. It will be a good war, it’s going to be like a good game. We’re going to fight to the best of our abilities and bring the best out of each other.”
Latifi will try to rebound from a unanimous decision loss to Corey Anderson at UFC 232 in December after winning two straight against Tyson Pedro and Ovince Saint Preux. The 35-year-old Swedish fighter made his UFC debut in 2013 and has been on the giving and receiving end of memorable knockout highlights.
Latifi has been ranked in the top 5 of the light heavyweight division and could find himself back there with a win over Oezdemir. He’s 7-4 in the UFC, but the losses have come at the hands of former and current highly-ranked fighters, as wells as current champions, such as Gegard Mousasi (Bellator middleweight champion), Blachowicz, Ryan Bader (Bellator light heavyweight and heavyweight champion) and Anderson.
The rest of the main card on ESPN+
Light heavyweight bout - No. 11 Jimi Manuwa vs. Aleksandar Rakić
Featherweight bout - Makwan Amirkhani vs. Chris Fishgold
Lightweight bout - Damir Hadžović vs. Christos Giagos
Featherweight bout - Daniel Teymur vs. Sung Bin Jo
Women's bantamweight bout - No. 12 Tonya Evinger vs. No. 13 Lina Länsberg
Lightweight bout - Stevie Ray vs. Leonardo Santos
Lightweight bout - Nick Hein vs. Frank Camacho
Women's bantamweight bout - Bea Malecki vs. Eduarda Santana
Light heavyweight bout - Darko Stošić vs. Devin Clark
Lightweight bout - Joel Alvarez vs. Danilo Belluardo