Alexander Gustafsson (16-2) won’t deny it - going through injuries and large lay-offs without competing isn’t good. When the UFC light heavyweight contender fought Jimi Manuwa last March, it was nearly six months after his epic title bout against champion Jon Jones.
When "The Mauler" next fights, Jan. 24 in the main event of UFC on Fox against Anthony Johnson (18-4) in Stockholm, he would have missed out on another title shot, due to injury, and had to wait about ten months since the Manuwa bout to get back into the Octagon. "Well, it’s not fun," Gustafsson recently admitted during a press conference to promote he and Johnson’s winter main event.
"It’s not fun, not competing. But, at the same time, I’ve just been improving my skills. And, I know for a fact, now, that I’m a better fighter than I was when I fought [last]."
Article continues below ...
One of the few benefits of time off is that fighters get a chance for their oft-injured bodies to heal a bit. If things continue the way they’ve been going for the Swedish star, he’ll be as healthy as he’s ever been when he steps into the cage with "Rumble."
"I’m feeling great," he said.
I’m there to fight. That’s my job…I’m focused on my opponent one thousand percent.
"I’m injury free. I’m in training camp, doing really good, making improvements every day."
For now, Gustafsson’s plan is to keep training in Sweden. He says he and his team are considering other opportunities to train outside of his home country, later in camp, though he wouldn’t commit to Alliance MMA in San Diego, where he’s spent a great deal of time training in the past.
Despite carrying the UFC on FOX card on his shoulders as the returning home town hero, the 27 year-old insisted that he doesn’t feel pressure to make the event a financial success for the UFC. Selling tickets is the promotion’s job, according to the fighter.
"No not at all," he said.
"I’m there to work. I’m there to fight. That’s my job. My job is not selling out anything…I’m just focused on the right thing."
The "right thing" doesn’t include looking past the KO artist Johnson, to another title fight, either. Gustafsson campaigned hard for a rematch with Jones after arguably deserving the decision nod against the champ in Sep. 2013.
Gustafsson first had to wait and fight Manuwa, to get a rematch, then was injured and replaced by Daniel Cormier for a scheduled bout this fall.
Once Cormier made himself indispensible as a hated rival for Jones, their matchup was kept and merely postponed after Jones pulled out with an injured knee. Now, Gustafsson has to fight the dangerous and downright scary Johnson in order to get the title shot he’s already earned.
The temptation might be for the rangy boxer to oscillate between resentment at not yet fighting for the belt, and overlooking Johnson. Neither is true, according to Gustafsson.
"I’m just focused on my opponent one thousand percent," he maintained.
"That’s all there is….I win this fight, let’s see what happens after that."