Alexander Gustafsson will now fight the UK’s Jimi Manuwa in London at a ‘UFC Fight Night’ event in March of next year.
The Swedish star had originally been scheduled to fight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a No.1 contender bout at the event, but ‘Lil Nog’ pulled out injured, paving the way for Manuwa to be handed this major milestone in his career instead.
Gustafsson’s profile has of course skyrocketed this year after a sensational performance against current champion Jon Jones, giving him by far the toughest test of his career and a five round war at UFC 165.
While ‘The Mauler’ ultimately lost by decision it was a close enough fight that many observers called for an immediate rematch. While initially enthusiastic about the idea, Jones opted to face a fresh opponent in Glover Teixeira next instead, but vowed to fight Gustafsson after that.
That left the Swede needing to take on another fight in the mean-time and that’ll come in the shape of Manuwa who’s a perfect 14-0 in his career to date and has won all three of his Octagon bouts by TKO so far.
While the first of those wins was definitive, battering Kyle Kingsbury from pillar to post before a second round doctor’s stoppage last year, his two other victories were somewhat unusual in that they both ended with accidental injuries to Cyrille Diabate (torn calf) and Ryan Jimmo (leg).
Manuwa’s undoubtedly one of the UK’s top fighters at this moment in time, but realistically he shouldn’t be going up against Gustafsson at this stage in his career.
It’s clear that what’s happening here is that the UFC are going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure Gustafsson gets a favorable match-up so that it doesn’t jeopardize the money-spinning rematch with Jones which they are clearly hoping for later in 2014.
That already seemed to be the case when they picked out the 5th ranked contender Nogueira as his original opponent instead of someone like Daniel Cormier or Phil Davis, and it’s even more obvious now that they’ve opted for Manuwa’s who’s not even in the current top 10.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be a fun fight though, and it’s by no means a gimmie fight for Gustafsson. However, Manuwa’s primarily a striker and that’s where Gustafsson is at his strongest too, so it’s a much better fight for him than either of the two other opponent’s mentioned above who are wrestlers first and foremost which is where he is weakest.
Given that this event will kick off the first of a new series of at least six European events it’s perhaps fitting that two European’s headline it though, and no doubt that’s something that the UFC will focus on when people ask why this particular match-up has been made.