When Daniel Cormier stopped Volkan Oezdemir with a second-round TKO this past January, many assumed that Alexander Gustafsson’s third crack at UFC gold would be next.
Gustafsson has long been a top UFC light heavyweight contender and memorably fell just inches short in title losses to both Cormier and Jon Jones. But despite being the No. 1 contender on the UFC’s official media-generated light heavyweight rankings, Gustafsson’s elusive third title shot didn’t come. Instead, Cormier was granted a rare opportunity to compete in a champion vs. champion superfight against heavyweight titleholder Stipe Miocic July 7 at UFC 226, abandoning the queue at 205 pounds completely, and Gustafsson admitted Monday on The MMA Hour to being “shocked” by how the situation played out.
“I’ve been a little bit frustrated,” Gustafsson said on The MMA Hour, “because I was counting on the DC fight. Me and him fighting for the belt again, that was my plan. That was my plan basically, and it didn’t end up like that, so it’s been a little bit frustrating. I’ve been injured for awhile too. I got injured not long after the fight I had against Glover [Teixeira], so I’m really motivated. I’ve been out for awhile and I’m just tired of being out such a long period of time. I just want to be active and I feel the fire and I feel the motivation.
“And now when [Cormier] goes up a weight class, we’re just sitting there on the sideline watching everything happen. So I’m a little bit frustrated, a little bit disappointed.”
Gustafsson, 31, has not been shy about sharing his frustration with Cormier on social media. The two rivals have traded shots on Twitter since UFC 226 was booked, with things becoming increasingly heated after Gustafsson targeted Cormier’s longtime teammate Luke Rockhold as a potential next opponent in Cormier’s stead. In one particularly fiery tweet, Cormier even referred to fighting for a title after a loss as “the Gustafsson way.”
Asked about the exchange on Monday, Gustafsson was frank in his response.
“I don’t know what to say to that just more than, I’m not the one disappearing here,” Gustafsson said. “He knows I’m here and he knows I’m waiting for him. It feels like he’s just playing it safe, and he has everything to gain in that [UFC 226] fight and nothing to lose.”
Moving forward, Gustafsson indicated that he’s already looking for another matchup to stay busy with while Cormier readies for his title challenge against Miocic. The lanky Swede prefers Rockhold to be that matchup, but he’s keeping his options open.
Regardless, things could get tricky if Cormier defeats Miocic and is suddenly faced with the reality of defending belts in two different divisions. If that happens, there’s a chance Cormier opts to stay at heavyweight and compete without a weight cut for the final few fights of his career — in which case, Gustafsson has already considered a response.
“Then I guess I have to do something about it,” Gustafsson said. “Maybe I need to eat a little bit more food or go up one weight class too. I don’t know, let’s see what happens. I just want to have another good run with him, and he has the belt, he has what I want. I hope he comes down. If he doesn’t, then we’ll have to sort it out somehow.”
Gustafsson made sure to note that he’s not done at light heavyweight and was only speaking in hypotheticals, but that he’ll still “keep chasing that belt, no matter where it is.”
Still, if he doesn’t get Rockhold next, Gustafsson could find himself at an uncomfortable crossroads. Two of the top-five ranked UFC light heavyweights are Gustafsson’s teammates at Sweden’s Allstars Training Center: Jimi Manuwa and Ilir Latifi. The list of viable contenders otherwise available at 205 pounds is not a long one, so a fight against either Manuwa or Latifi could soon make sense from a divisional standpoint.
“It is a tricky situation,” Gustafsson admitted.
“As it comes to now and my positioning now, I’m just feeling that it doesn’t matter what happens, I’m just here to take that belt. That’s what my focus is and my purpose is right now. And of course I’m happy for the guys. They’re winning and we have a really strong team, and that’s something that means a lot to me. But I have my goal. I have my eyes and my focus on that belt right now.”
Either way, Gustafsson simply hopes to have his answer soon. After competing once in each of the past two years, he is aiming to be as active as possible on his road to gold in 2018.
“I’m injury-free, I’m back in full training, and I had a great showing against Glover, but there’s so much more of me,” Gustafsson said. “I’m here and I’m waiting a good fight, a good opportunity, and that’s about it. Let’s see what happens. Let’s see what the plans are for our division and all of that.
“There is a conversation and that’s how much I know now. We’re talking to the UFC about it and trying to find a way to solve this, solve this and come back and start competing again.”