It's amazing that Matyushenko (26-5) is not only still functional as a human but a force at MMA's elite level with a decade and a half clocked on his time card. Besides jumping back and forth from heavy and light-heavy, Vladdy hasn't drastically tweaked his style or stockpiled a bunch of new weapons like the forced evolution of many other old schoolers. Instead, he's just steadily patched up his weaker points, learned how to apply his core competencies more effectively and maintained his blue-collar work ethic.
Since losing to Tito Ortiz way back at UFC 33 in 2001, "The Janitor" has won sixteen of his nineteen fights with nothing but respectable defeats to the likes of a prime Andrei Arlovski, the perennially ranked Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and the virtually immortal Jon Jones. Outside the Octagon, that streak features wins over Nogueira, Travis Wiuff, and Pedro Rizzo; in the IFL, he became light-heavyweight champion after a flawless six-piece stretch that included Tim Boetsch and Alex Schoenauer; in his UFC return, he rolled out three straight (Jason Lambert, Igor Pokrajac, Eliot Marshall) and rebounded from the Jones loss with merciless beatings of Alexandre Ferreira and Jason Brilz.
Gustafsson (11-1) is a surging Swedish fighter who really seems to be coming into his own. First emerging at UFC 105 with a flawless eight-fight record, the lanky foreigner crushed Jared Hamman by first-round knockout before suffering his first and only defeat to wrestling powerhouse Phil Davis.
Undaunted, "The Mauler" took up training with Davis at Alliance MMA to bolster his grappling game and went on to score three consecutive stoppages: rear-naked chokes fitted to Cyrille Diabate and James Te Huna and a shellacking of Matt Hamill for the biggest win of his career.
Match up analysis in the full entry.
The dynamics of this match up are pretty straightforward. Vladdy is a wide-bodied, snarling ogre with frightening strength and ridiculous punching power at close range. Gustafsson is a long-limbed finesse fighter with exceptional agility and devastating boxing.
This will be a game of range with Vladdy looking to swallow up space and mash Gustafsson against the cage to batter him with dirty boxing or bury him with ground and pound, and the Swede using his quick footwork to keep a lot of breathing room and needle long punches from a distance. While Gustafsson will be hard-pressed to out-muscle Vladdy in the clinch, he does have excellent scrambling, especially for someone with such a stretched out physique.
On the same token, Gustafsson is by far the more polished striker, but Vladdy seems to have gotten eerily comfortable with his hands and packs a serious wallop. His stand up used to be a bit awkward and clumsy but, while I still wouldn't call it graceful, his stance, defense and overall technique have improved. Some of his rudimentary aspects stand out more when he's jousting on the fringe, so his preference is to barrel into close quarters with his fists flying. If his opponent is still conscious, he'll either repeat or hit a double leg and hammer from the top until they are.
Gustafsson's striking has been crisp, tight and powerful. He's learned to maximize the advantages that his unusual frame offers, which is wielding longer strikes and moving faster than the average 205er without being a pushover strength-wise. He has a few kicks in his repertoire but I'd keep it simple and target Vladdy's heavy lead leg with low kicks while staying on his bike.
I'm picking Gustafsson as most are, mostly on account of his age, momentum and killer boxing. However, Vladdy could turn out to be a nightmare match up and I disagree with the slanted betting odds. His chin is still decent, he hits like a truck, he's strong as a bull and he has top-shelf wrestling. It's crazy to count him out here.
My Prediction: Alexander Gustafsson by TKO.