Since September 2013, Alexander Gustafsson can rarely go a day, especially with interviews on the docket, without the name of Jon Jones coming up.
Gustafsson battled the UFC light heavyweight champion to a razor close decision last year, and just after the bout he thought there was going to be an automatic rematch, but instead Jones opted to face Glover Teixeira at UFC 172 in April. Gustafsson booked his fight for this weekend at UFC Fight Night London against Jimi Manuwa but if both fighters get wins, they will face each other again later this year.
Gustafsson would love to just focus on Manuwa because that’s who he’s facing next, but he understands everyone wants to know about the rematch with Jones.
"I’m like press the button, repeat when it comes to Jon Jones right now," Gustafsson told FOX Sports. "I’m answering the same questions, the same answers, so it’s a little bit tiring but at the same time I understand it. My focus is on the right thing. I have a great challenge in front of me, I can’t look past that, and I have to take it very seriously because Jimi’s a very dangerous guy."
I’m like press the button, repeat when it comes to Jon Jones right now. I’m answering the same questions, the same answers, so it’s a little bit tiring
— Alexander Gustafsson
For as often as his name is connected to Jones, Gustafsson admittedly doesn’t pay much attention to anything the champion says or does in the media. There is a mutual respect between Gustafsson and Jones, but ultimately the Swedish born light heavyweight wants what he has so all he cares about is winning the title in his next trip to the Octagon.
He will be watching Jones fight Teixeira in April and the truth is he doesn’t really care who wins, so long as he gets the next shot. Everyone can clamor for the rematch with Jones, but Gustafsson’s concern is the title, not redemption from a loss.
"It’s not anything I put any energy in thinking about, I don’t care actually. He can do whatever he wants to do," Gustafsson said about Jones. "I have another challenge in front of me, that’s what I need to focus on right now. I’m going to finish Jimi, and when I finish Jimi I want that title shot. Whoever has the belt, I’m up for a fight."
Manuwa presents an intriguing challenge to Gustafsson because he’s an undefeated fighter with knockout power in both hands, and walks into the fight as a bit of an enigma. While Manuwa’s record is impressive, the jury is still out on how he reacts to a ground fight or if he has a submission game at all.
He’s 14-0 with finishes in every one of his fights (13 KO’s or TKO’s, one guillotine choke submission) and he’s never even seen the third round during his career. This is a five round main event for anyone keeping score at home.
There’s also the factor that Manuwa is a huge underdog going into the fight so he really has nothing to lose when facing Gustafsson. The entire world is already assuming that it’s going to be Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 later this year, but Manuwa has the power to throw a giant monkey wrench into those plans.
I’m going to finish Jimi, and when I finish Jimi I want that title shot. Whoever has the belt, I’m up for a fight
— Alexander Gustafsson
It’s the chief reason Gustafsson doesn’t want to answer questions about Jones because Manuwa could steal away any chance he has at another title shot with one punch on Saturday in London.
"He’s unbeaten and he believes in himself, so he’s very dangerous," Gustafsson said. "He’s just under the radar, nobody knows about him, but he’s a great threat to anyone in the 205 division. I’ve done my homework, I’m ready."
The logic for the outcome of this fight is pretty simple. A win earns Gustafsson another shot at the UFC light heavyweight title. A loss puts him back amidst a pile of contenders all hoping to eventually reach that plateau.
Gustafsson wants to take it one step further by not only winning and earning the title shot, but to make an example out of Manuwa that he is the true, No. 1 contender to the UFC light heavyweight throne.
"I want to finish him," Gustafsson said. "And I want to finish him good."