When we last left our heroes...It must be weird for Gustafsson. Here's a top 10 LHW, who in a parallel universe becomes the UFC LHW champion, going from PPV in what would become one of the best title fights in recent (and distant) memory...to Fight Pass...Zuffa's notoriously rushed personal channel that cannot be accessed with your typical remote and comfortable couch. He's probably telling himself "man, this sucks". Oh wait...
It's easy, however inexplicable, to see Zuffa's logic. They want people to buy Fight Pass. Since you're not gonna be able to stick champions on it (yet?), you can afford to put the some of the prospects/challengers. Of course, short term this simply buries some of your contenders, consigning them to utter obscurity.
I'm not a businessman. I'd probably suck at it. But I feel like Fight Pass is an opportunity to concentrate undercard fighters on their own platform so that the PPV's could be more stacked, which could theoretically help PPV numbers. After all, if I know Fight Pass is just another Fox Sports type show that I have to pay for, I'm less inclined to buy Fight Pass. Or so my logic goes.
Anyway, Gustafsson is taking a serious metaphorical (?) pay cut here. Even his original opponent, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, wasn't exactly the best option. But politically speaking, any showcase fight is good for Alexander. After all, it sets up a rematch with Jon Jones nicely. At 15-2 he'll only get better. His performance against Jones was one for the ages. I'm frankly shocked there's any debate at all about what the best fight of the year was. Not only was it back and forth, but it was a back and forth title fight involving a dramatic struggle with one of the world's top "P4P" fighters.
So in case some fans are unaware, he is fighting the guy formerly known as TBA. Across from Gustafsson is N'Jimi M'Bouba Tuluku Manuwa...or Jimi Manuwa for those of us who don't have all day.
Manuwa is 14-0. He's finished all of his fights (13 by way of strikes). And has only gone to the 2nd round four times in his career. He's on a bizarre winning streak in the UFC in which all of his opponents have required the doctors to step in and assess the damage. He put in work to get there, but it's an interesting streak that will probably never be replicated.
What both men can do: Gustafsson put on the manliest performance in the history of Westeros at UFC 165. The reason I think it's silly any other fight even gets mentioned with the Gustafsson vs. Jones bout is because it was not only savage, but technical: both men had to not only fight, but they had to think. Alexander's movement played a key role in avoiding damage on the feet.
He's a massive LHW, so coming in with a lead uppercut, as he likes to do, isn't so easily punished like it can be against smaller fighters. Manuwa ends up in the clinch a lot, which is great if you're Alexander Gustafsson. His uppercuts are brutal, and he'll be looking to land some against a guy who is more than willing to trade punches in tight, or in the center of the octagon.
Despite his submission loss to Phil Davis back in 2010, Gustafsson is well groomed on the ground. At this point, he prefers to just keep it standing. Which brings us to Tuluki Manuwa.
There's not a whole lot to add when describing what we've already seen. He's a beast in the clinch. He favors knees for the most part, but when he has distance, he's adept at lunging in with a brutal left hook.
What both men can't do: But what about everything else? We have yet to see Manuwa on the ground. It's hard to say what he has to offer. However, he hasn't been overly impressive even against guys like Ryan Jimmo and Cyrille Diabate. Granted, Jimmo and Diabate aren't chumps, but he'll be ill-prepared to handle what Alex brings.
For one, Gustafsson can put him on his back if he wants to. One of the more impressive accomplishments was watching Gus actually take Jones down with authority. How will Manuwa respond? By getting taken down I presume.
To be fair to Manuwa he was doing well against Diabate on the feet, which is no small tasks. I'd even say he was getting the better of the exchanges, but that knee to the body looked like it hurt. Needless to say, that fight would have been interesting had it gone on longer.
In addition, the clinch is huge here. Manuwa loves it there and will want it there as well because he won't be able to land much from outside given Alex's height and size. Gustafsson is the much better clinch fighter.
If there's a silver lining for Manuwa, it's that Gustafsson is very very hittable. A lot of fans like to laud this trait like it's immutable or something, but no matter who you are (Mark Hunt or not), a good enough shot will put you down. And as we've seen with Anderson Silva, when it goes, it goes dramatically. People can cry youth in response, but youth is relative in a sport where experience requires getting violently beaten up.
Not that Manuwa is going to win or anything. But much stranger things have happened.
Prediction: Alexander Gustafsson by TKO, round 1.