Fans and media members alike say it all the time, and rightly so: “Anything can happen in this sport”. Yet despite the many examples of seemingly outmatched underdogs besting otherwise untouchable opponents, we far too often neglect to give the underdogs the recognition they deserve as dangerous challengers.
UFC 165’s Fight of the Year candidate featuring Alexander Gustafsson (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) and Jon Jones (19-1 MMA, 13-1 UFC) was precisely this sort of fight. Regardless of the judges’ decision, the way in which Gustafsson battered the champion, defended an odds-defying 10 takedowns and even achieved one of his own was staggering in its own right and served as a lesson to us all to give every challenger their proper dues.
What is even more remarkable about the discussion prior to UFC 165 is that not only was Gustafsson being looked past, but Glover Teixeira (22-2 MMA, 5-0 UFC), who is now scheduled to face Jones on Super Bowl weekend, was also regarded with little chance of posing a threat. This was due as much to the fact that Teixeira hadn’t beaten a top contender as much as it was to Jones’ inviolable presence at the time.
However, after 25 minutes of bloody, grueling competition, Jones stood beside Big John McCarthy, with a swollen face and a near fight ending laceration over his right eye, and for the first time in a Jones fight there was doubt in the minds of all watching as to who would leave the champion.
Gustafsson’s victory did more than increase his own stock and expose a previously absent human quality to the champion. It forced us to reevaluate everything we thought about the Teixeira fight and to accept the very real possibility, however improbable, that a fighter with heavy hands and laudable wrestling could conceivably take out the champion.
Consider that Teixeira arguably has stronger wrestling and more powerful (albeit slower) hands than the Swedish pugilist (a scary thought to consider for the Jackson camp), not to mention the fact that he’s undefeated in 20 fights, and we could very well have ourselves another instance where Jones is legitimately challenged. And with this previously unseen possibility comes a level of intrigue that simply didn’t exist prior to the Gustafsson classic.
If Dana White didn’t thank the MMA gods for what Gustafsson’s fight did for fan and media perception of the Teixeira fight, he should have.
Jones and Teixeira have each had their moments of danger in the octagon, however fleeting, and it’s their vulnerabilities combined with their fistic prowess that could very well make for another exhilarating fight.
In Jones’ case, they are vulnerabilities that Greg Jackson and Mike Winklejohn will surely scramble to correct. In fact, Jones’ statement regarding an over-focus on boxing during his training camp is telling as an error in game-planning, something that’s not often said about the Albuquerque gym.
However fortunate this may have been for Gustafsson, Jackson’s camp is renowned for its meticulous approach to each fight and Teixeira would be foolish to count on another such lapse in Jones’ training. This could even be another case where a fighter, having been thoroughly challenged, comes back so fiercely that we’re compelled to forget that he ever faced any adversity in the first place (GSP’s rematches against Matt Serra and Matt Hughes come to mind).
This and the many other narratives written on UFC 165 add a new sense of anticipation to the Jones/Teixeira matchup and help to further legitimize Teixeira as a worthy contender. As if Super Bowl weekend wasn’t looked forward to enough, now we have one more reason to hope for the day to come sooner rather than later.