Time can change some things, but it can’t change facts and one fact is that the UFC light heavyweight division is not now — nor was it ever — Alexander Gustafsson’s division.
Gustafsson, who returns to the octagon for the first time since July 2020 and competes for the first time at 205 pounds since June 2019, made the above claim in the days leading up to his fight opposite the No. 11 ranked light heavyweight, Nikita Krylov. Gustafsson, who claimed ownership of the division, is unranked.
Gustafsson was in two of the greatest fights in UFC light heavyweight history. His 2013 scrap opposite Jon Jones and his 2015 matchup against Daniel Cormier — he was the title challenger in both those contests. Gustafsson failed to get his hand raised in either outing.
Following the loss to Cormier at UFC 192, Gustafsson defeated Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira to get a second shot at Jones and the (then vacant) light heavyweight crown, but Jones knocked Gustafsson out in the third round of that bout.
Gustafsson followed that TKO loss with a submission defeat to Anthony Smith in June 2019. The Swedish fighter, who headlined that card in his home country, retired after the loss. An emotional Gustafsson took his gloves off after the fight and told UFC commentator Dan Hardy inside the octagon, “the show is over, guys” as he dropped his mitts to the canvas.
Gustafsson fell from the No. 2 ranking to No. 4 in the official UFC light heavyweight rankings following his loss to Smith. He remained in the rankings until late July 2020. Gustafsson was at the No. 7 spot before the UFC removed him from the official light heavyweight rankings. That removal followed his return to action. On July 26, 2020, Fabricio Werdum submitted Gustafsson via armbar in a heavyweight matchup.
Gustafsson has been in some wars during his MMA career, but at 35, he’s not an old light heavyweight. In fact, none of the fighters ranked inside the top-10 in the latest edition of the UFC 205-pound rankings is under 30 and three ranked fighters — Jan Blachowicz, Glover Teixeira and Thiago Santos are older than Gustafsson. Which is to say, while the division is not his, there is still time for Gustafsson to make it his.
A victory on the UFC London card against Krylov is the first step in turning that dream into reality for the former title challenger. The 30-year-old Krylov is 2-4 in his past six outings and riding a two-fight losing skid. His most recent bout ended in Paul Craig submitting him in 3:57 in March.
If Gustafsson is to make another run to the top of the division, he must beat Krylov. There’s no question about that. The oddsmakers don’t see that happening. Krylov is a 2-1 favorite over Gustafsson ahead of their matchup at the 02 Arena in London.