On a day when UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier came to blows during a UFC 178 press conference, the odd man out, Alexander Gustafsson is quietly keeping himself in the wings.
The much-anticipated rematch between Gustafsson and Jones was put on hold a couple of weeks ago when the Swede injured his knee in training. Now that Gustafsson has been replaced by Cormier for the Sept. 27 bout, he will have plenty of time to heal as he awaits the winner.
Gustafsson will undergo a minor procedure to fix his meniscus in Sweden on Tuesday. The No. 1 contender made an appearance on The MMA Hour to update everyone on how he’s doing.
"[It’s] not serious at all," he told Ariel Helwani. "It’s actually one of the easiest knee injuries you could have. It’s a very easy operation, it takes maybe 15-20 minutes. The recovery time is just a few weeks, and you can walk home from the surgery. It’s not a big deal at all. The thing is, it’s one of those things where it’s a small problem that can get very big if you don’t do anything about it.
"For me to have a 10-12 week camp against Jones, I need to be 100 percent. I can’t go into that cage knowing that something is hurting. I need to be 100 percent. We decided that I needed to have that operation."
Gustafsson will long be ready to resume training by the end of August, if all goes as planned, in plenty of time to wait out the Cormier-Jones winner. It gets a little complicated, though, Should Cormier dethrone Jones, that opens up a set of new uncertainties. Cormier himself opted to forego surgery on his own knee, and that procedure still looms at a point in the future. And with Jones having defended his 205-pound title seven consecutive times, a loss would almost certainly mandate an immediate rematch.
Therefore, it makes sense that Gustafsson would pull for Jones to continue his streak against Cormier, just to avoid any muddying of the waters. When asked if he would be rooting for Jones, Gustafsson chuckled, before admitting he would.
"No respect to DC, I think he’s a very great opponent and a great athlete, I think he’s a very tough fighter and a hard-working guy, but I believe Jones will win the fight," he said. "I’m actually hoping that he will win the fight because if I’m going to take the belt from anybody I want it to be Jones."
Gustafsson and Jones fought at UFC 165 this past September in Toronto. The fight was an instant classic, with Gustafsson not only thwarting early takedown attempts by Jones, but also becoming the first man to take Jones down in the Octagon. It was a bloody back-and-forth battle that Jones ultimately won on the scorecards. Gustafsson has long maintained that he won the fight, and he and Jones have gone back-and-forth on the topic through social media since then.
With the heat between Cormier and Jones intensifying, Gustafsson will now be forced to wait and see how things play out. He says he hasn’t been guaranteed a shot at Jones next, even if Jones wins, but that’s the only scenario he’s thinking of.
"Not in those words exactly, but I see myself fighting Jones," he said. "That’s what I want. Nothing else. That’s what I want. I’m not saying anything else, and I’m really, really hoping that I get my chance. I will do my operation, and I’ll have my few weeks of rehab, and I’m going to come back stronger than ever. When my knee is healed, I’m going to be 100 percent. I’m going to be better than ever. I’m really hoping that I get my title. I want my title."
Gustafsson has had to defeat Jimi Manuwa to get his return bout with Jones, and it’s been nearly a year in the making. Jones defeated Glover Teixeira at UFC 172 in April to set up the rematch. Though he said he tried to push through it, when Gustafsson realized his injured right knee was hindering his training he made the very difficult decision to call Joe Silva and bow out of the fight.
"It was very hard for me, [the Jones’ rematch was] something that I’ve wanted so long," he said. "Everyone wanted to see that fight. I wanted to have that fight again. That’s the only fight I’m thinking about, even today. I want to fight Jones again for the title. I know I can beat him. I know I have the tools to beat him. I know I can take that belt. So it was very hard for me not having that fight."