Here are your top 10 light-heavyweights in SILVA, as of right now:
- Jon Jones – 93.88
- Rashad Evans – 89.92
- Phil Davis – 85.14
- Quinton Jackson – 81.93
- Muhammed Lawal – 80.00
- Dan Henderson – 74.57
- Alexander Gustafsson – 73.66
- Lyoto Machida – 71.56
- Mauricio Rua – 69.92
- Ryan Bader – 68.62
Forget about “King Mo” for a second, and look at the other names. Jones. Evans. Davis. Jackson. Henderson. Machida. Rua. These are the biggest names in the division, and planted right in the middle of them is this Swedish fighter named Gustafsson. What is he doing here?
Well, I have the feeling that you’ll know all about Alexander Gustafsson before too long. His overall MMA record is 12-1; his sole loss was to Phil Davis, who happens to rank third on the above list. All but one of his wins are by stoppage, with eight by KO/TKO and three by submission. In his last fight, Gustafsson out-classed Matt Hamill en route to a second-round TKO, winning in more decisive fashion than Quinton Jackson did when he beat Hamill in May, in my opinion.
Other wins Gustafsson has scored are a 41 second KO of Jared Hamman (less impressive after Hamman’s recent loss to Costa Philippou), a second-round submission of Cyrille Diabate (and Gustafsson crushed Diabate in that one), and a first-round submission earlier this year, over James Te Huna in Australia.
Now at 4-1 in the UFC, Gustafsson is knocking on the door to title contention, and standing in the way is Vladimir Matyushenko, a fighter who seems to be perpetually in the second tier of light-heavyweights in MMA. Just as Gustafsson’s UFC record is 4-1, Matyushenko is 4-1 since making his return to the UFC at UFC 103, and has done it despite being a 14 year veteran of the sport (although he only fought twice between 2003 and 2007). His wins aren’t as exciting as Gustafsson’s: Igor Pokrajac, Eliot Marshall, Alexandre Ferreira, and Jason Brilz. Three of those fighters are now out of the UFC, and Pokrajac isn’t what I would call a sure bet to hang around much longer.
Still, Matyushenko is a fighter who wins very consistently against opponents who aren’t in the top tier of the light-heavyweight division. Four of his career losses were to Jon Jones, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Andrei Arlovski, and Tito Ortiz, and all four were at the top of their respective games when they beat Matyushenko. In that sense, Matyushenko serves as something of a very high-level gatekeeper. Beat Matyushenko, and you’ll find yourself taking on the best names in the division.
Can Gustafsson do it? I feel confident that he can. While age hasn’t seemed to affect Matyushenko too much, the fact is that he is both a 14-year veteran of MMA, and 40 years old, so his career clock has to be ticking at this point. But besides that, I think Gustafsson is just plain better. Gustafsson completely shut down Matt Hamill’s attempts to take him down, and while I recognize that Hamill turned out to be a very overrated wrestler in MMA, Gustafsson has still been extremely hard to take down throughout his MMA career.
SILVA PREDICTION: ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON (73.66) OVER VLADIMIR MATYUSHENKO (68.31)
It seems to me that Matyushenko’s best bet in this fight is to knock out Alexander Gustafsson, like he knocked out Jason Brilz in his last fight. To that, I say “good luck.” Gustafsson doesn’t have the world’s best striking defense, but he is very tall at 6’5″ and is a very good striker himself. Trust me… Rich Franklin might not have wanted to fight Gustafsson because he hadn’t heard of him, but a lot of people are going to know all about this guy very soon.