Jimi Manuwa has had a very strong start to his UFC career. He’s won by TKO three times in three UFC fights, defeating Kyle Kingsbury, Cyrille Diabate, and Ryan Jimmo. Manuwa is in a position where he should be ready to take on a top 15 opponent in the light-heavyweight division… and he’s getting a top 3 opponent in Alexander Gustafsson.
Before Gustafsson fought Jon Jones in September, I stated that Gustafsson was the most dangerous opponent Jones had ever been matched up against. That proved true as Gustafsson and Jones went toe to toe in an all-out slugfest for five rounds. Jones was just slightly better than Gustafsson on that night… and the fight left a lot of people believing that Gustafsson deserved to be the UFC light-heavyweight champion.
I personally thought Jones did just enough to keep his belt, but that fight showed what I believed all along – that Gustafsson is a world-class fighter and deserves recognition as such.
Manuwa has never faced anybody nearly as good as Gustafsson. He’s faced a high-level striker in Diabate, but Manuwa wisely attacked with takedowns in that fight, landing three takedowns in one round. The fight ended in an unsatisfying manner as Diabate was injured and unable to continue at the end of the first round.
Manuwa is unlikely to try takedowns against Gustafsson, a fighter who has only been taken down four times in nine UFC fights, and a fighter with a takedown defense rate of 87 percent. Instead, Manuwa is likely to do what he normally does, which is move forward and throw strikes with high volume and a lot of power.
I’m not as sure about Gustafsson’s game plan. He’s an excellent striker and may be happy to engage in a striking match against Manuwa. However, Gustafsson is a very capable grappler as well and may decide that the safest way to beat Manuwa is to take him down and control the fight from top position.
If I assume that Gustafsson will choose to engage with Manuwa on the feet, I have to favor him there, especially later in the fight. While Manuwa lands strikes at a very high rate, he also absorbs strikes at a high rate as well. Overall, Manuwa has landed 119 significant strikes and absorbed 73 in the UFC in roughly 25 minutes. Those are good numbers, but I’m a bit troubled by not just Manuwa’s 2.96 significant strikes absorbed per minute, but also his dismal 35% striking defense.
The numbers indicate that when Manuwa’s opponents throw strikes at him, they connect a whopping 65 percent of the time, an extremely high percentage given that Manuwa’s fights have mostly remained standing. Consider that Gustafsson lands 4.11 significant strikes per minute, and what we have is a match between a fighter who lands a lot of strikes and a fighter who absorbs a lot of strikes.
That means I have to favor Gustafsson as long as the fight is standing, and that’s Manuwa’s best-case scenario. Every other aspect of this fight favors Gustafsson, from takedowns to submissions to conditioning. Speaking of conditioning, this is a five-round fight, which is not conducive to Manuwa’s exhausting fighting style.
I have to respect Manuwa’s destructive striking and the fact that he has 13 wins by TKO in 14 career fights. There’s always a chance that he could clip Gustafsson early and win by knockout. But the longer the fight goes, the better it is for Gustafsson, who I believe will show that he’s simply at a different level than Manuwa at this point.
Pick: Alexander Gustafsson by TKO
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
I know that Gustafsson is a large favorite at -380, but I’m going to put a bet down on him anyway. In my humble opinion, Manuwa’s only realistic chance of winning this fight is to knock Gustafsson out, and Gustafsson has never been knocked down, let alone knocked out. I’m going to risk $7.60 to win $2.00 on this one.