Prior to running into a man named Phil Davis, Swedish fighter Alexander Gustafsson was rocketing up the light heavyweight ranks.
Starting his career a perfect 9-0, Gustafsson knocked out Jared Hamman in his Octagon debut, but then had to step in with a similarly streaking Davis. A four-year All-American wrestler in college and a national champion, Davis put his grappling skills to use against Gustafsson, submitting him late in the opening round of their fight.
That may have been one of the best things that could have happened to the youngster.
Nobody wants to lose, but having to deal with Davis’ grappling skills gave Gustafsson a new perspective on his own skills and what he needs to do if he wants to become a champion.
He’s made several changes since that loss, chief among them, putting much more emphasis on his career as a fighter.
“The fight opened my eyes. For me, this is my life, my career, so I want to learn and I want to be better every time. I want to be a better Alex for every fight,” Gustafsson told MMAWeekly Radio on Thursday.
Oh, and he also added Davis to his training camp, making trips to Alliance MMA in Southern California to learn from the man that used his grappling prowess to give Gustafsson the only blemish on his record.
“We talked and I went over to train, since then I’ve been a totally different fighter. I’ve been very disciplined. I’ve been a better wrestler, grappler, boxer, a professional athlete overall.
The 25-year-old’s newfound dedication reverberated over his next few fights, winning all four bouts since the loss to Davis. He even overcame a couple of veteran fighters known for the grappling skills in Matt Hamill and Vladimir Matyushenko.
He’ll face another stiff test of his improving grappling abilities when he steps into the UFC on Fuel TV 2 main event across from Thiago Silva on Saturday in Stockholm. Silva is a replacement for the injured Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Gustafsson cracks Matyushenko at UFC 141
Gustafsson believes because of their styles, the fight with Silva will be a better one anyway, especially for fans. “It’s going to be much more exciting.”
Silva was once considered one of the rising stars of the division, prior to losses to Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida coupled with a drug test violation in Nevada. This is actually his first fight back in action since fulfilling the terms of his suspension.
Already back in the realm of “the next big thing” talk following his current four-fight streak, should Gustafsson get past Silva on Saturday, he will immediately catapult his name into the upper tier of fighters being considered for a title shot.
At this level of competition, however, he can’t afford to count Silva as a notch in his belt before the fight happens.
“This is the only fight that’s in my mind right now and I’m 100-percent focused on it. When they start talking about title shots and stuff, when that day will come, maybe someday, I will be ready for it,” said Gustafsson of his championship aspirations.
He doesn’t begrudge those that constantly want to focus on the title picture and push him into it, Gustafsson just knows that if he ever wants to get there, he needs to stay focused on the task at hand. The task at hand is currently Thiago Silva at UFC on Fuel TV 2 in Sweden.
“Right now, it’s just this fight.”
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