By Ashkon Maygoni
With a potential Fight of the Night brewing in the Main Event of UFC Fight Night 153, I’m going to attempt to break down the styles of both fighters.
Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson
Getting straight to the point, the big question regarding Gustafsson is: What should we expect? The answer is actually straight-forward. We should expect the same Gustafsson we’ve seen since April 2010. That was the last time we saw Gustafsson evolve his style to fill clear holes.
After his loss against Phil Davis, he began to train with Davis to improve his glaring weakness in the wrestling department. But since then, other than obviously improving overall, has he evolved at all?
15 UFC fights over 9 years, and Gustafsson still hasn’t incorporated a consistent kicking game. Hard to blame him since his boxing has held up against anyone not named Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, or Anthony Johnson, but once you get to a level as elite as those 3, you have to offer something more. This boxing style with effective takedown defense makes it easier to gameplan against. There are aspects that you know you don’t have to worry about when fighting Gustafsson.
Compare that to the 2 elites in the division: Jones, and Cormier. You really have to be ready in all aspects of MMA when you are about to face them, unfortunately the same can’t be said for Gustafsson. Does that mean Anthony Smith will be able to get it done?
Well, it’s not that easy.
Despite the lack of evolution in Gustafsson’s game, it’s kind of hard to blame him when the Light Heavyweight division is as weak as it is. Other than Jones and Cormier, there aren’t any fighters in the division that have anything near a complete MMA game. You’ve got your clear strikers in Smith, Manuwa, Oezdemir, and then you have your clear grapplers in Latifi, Teixera, Cirkunov. Because of this, Gustafsson’s style is fine, unless he wants to be something more than “3rd best”.
Boxing, Movement, Grappling Defense, Durability.
Lack of kicking game, Striking defense (height and chin make his defense seem more effective than it is)
Anthony “Lionheart” Smith
Anthony Smith is a bit tough to analyze at light heavyweight because other than his fight against Jones, the caliber of fighter that he has faced isn’t on the same level same as Gustafsson. It’s something that needs to be considered when comparing fight tape.
If you just look at it on paper, Anthony boasts a 90% finish rate, but other than Volkan Oezdemir, his previous 3 fights were against fighters where you go “just retire, you don’t have anything left to prove.” It’s hard to judge Anthony’s true skill level since moving up because either he’s been given an over-the-hill fighter or Jon Jones. And there’s not much you can gauge from any fighter when they face Jon Jones.
In fact, the Oezdemir fight is the only one we can effectively evaluate. He started that fight off very slow, and only took over once it was clear that Oezdemir had gassed. Now with that said, it’d be unfair to discredit his wins over Rua and Evans just because they’re old.
The Evans fight was a near-flawless performance, and although he was hit a couple times in the Rua fight, he displayed impressive hand-speed and aggression. As discussed with Gustafsson, we see the same issue with Smith. He’s a bit one-dimensional. I would argue that although his hand speed is much faster than Gustafsson’s, Gustafsson is more technical.
The other factor that is a bit weird to consider, but necessary in my opinion, is chin strength. Other than almost being decapitated by Rumble, Gustafsson has shown a very durable chin. And while Smith’s chin hasn’t faltered in the UFC, he does have several TKO losses along with 1 KO loss.
Striking, Speed, Clinch
If I had to make a prediction I would say that Gustafsson takes this one, but I don’t think I’d be surprised in the slightest if Smith won via TKO. The most likely scenario is that Gustafsson tires Smith out with his footwork and boxing. If Smith wants to win this one, he has to rely on catching Gustafsson in one of his quick flurries.