Alexander Gustafsson was facing more than a little pressure, headlining in the UFC for the first time —and in his home country. But he came through with flying colors.
Gustafsson stayed busy for three rounds Saturday, outstriking Thiago Silva en route to a unanimous decision victory at "UFC on FUEL TV: Gustafsson vs. Silva." The card took place at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, Gustafsson’s home country.
Gustafsson knocked down Silva in the first round and moved in quickly looking to finish. He was unable to finish the fight, perhaps choosing to remain cautious and not overextend himself. But though Silva was able to land several significant shots that got Gustafsson’s attention, the Swede was mostly dominant in the main event, picking up scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
Gustafsson said he loved fighting in front of his home country for the first time in the UFC, but he remained cautious about where analysts are putting him in the light heavyweight division — with plenty of comparisons to Jon Jones.
"All I can say is I’m proud to fight here in my home country for my countrymen. It’s a big honor," Gustafsson said. "That’s one of my things, staying busy, and I always train for a five-round fight. I just want to take the fight the UFC gives me and do what I love to do — fight."
Silva said the shot he took from Gustafsson in the first round was indeed significant.
"It was bad (in the first round). I couldn’t feel my legs," Silva said. "But I did my job and tried to push as much as I could. I couldn’t find the distance, and he deserves the victory. What else can I say?"
Gustafsson now has won five straight fights, though this was his first decision in that stretch. With Jones defending his 205-pound title next week against Rashad Evans, many have been quick to mention Gustafsson as a possible contender should Jones win because their styles and sizes seem similar. But not so fast, said UFC president Dana White.
"It’s a little early," White said after the fight. "He looked great. The kid is absolutely talented. To come in to your hometown, there was a lot of pressure on him tonight and I think he shined. I have no clue (how soon he might get a title shot). But I can tell you this: It would not suck doing a fight here with him and Jon Jones, I can tell you that."
Gustafsson said he’s happy just to be mentioned in the same breath as the champion.
"We’re two different fighters. But just mentioning my name with a top guy like him, it’s good feedback," Gustafsson said.
In the night’s co-main event, Brian Stann rebounded from a UFC 136 loss in October to Chael Sonnen — and in a big way. With two crisp shots to the chin while in Alessio Sakara’s guard on the ground, Stann knocked out his opponent.
Stann was fighting with a heavy heart after the death of his brother-in-law late last year and dedicated the fight to his memory on behalf of his wife.
Stann said he just needs to get back to work now that he’s back in the win column.
"(I’ll fight) whoever’s next up the ladder," Stann said. "I lost big (against Sonnen), and now I have to climb back up. We fight the best in the world here, and I’m honored to be a part of it. Alessio Sakara is amazing."
The card, the UFC’s debut in Sweden, featured eight stoppages in 12 fights — including six submissions. Joining Stann with a knockout on the main card was highly touted UFC newcomer Siyar Bahadurzada, who stopped Paulo Thiago with just three punches in 42 seconds.
Bonus winners for the card were Bahadurzada for Knockout of the Night, John Maguire for his armbar submission over DaMarques Johnson and Brad Pickett and Damacio Page for Fight of the Night, which Pickett won by submission in the second round. Each bonus winner received $50,000.
White said the sold-out Ericsson Globe Arena crowd rivaled that of even the fans in Brazil during the UFC’s last two trips to Rio de Janeiro. He said the attendance was in excess of 15,000, and the gate more than $2.2 million for the show.
"It was awesome. The crowd here was amazing," White said. "Ireland was crazy, the first time in Brazil (was crazy). But they might have took it tonight. It was a very knowledgeable crowd. It was a very educated crowd here."