Swede eyeing sweet revenge

Swede eyeing sweet revenge

SINGAPORE - It has been 52 days since Alexander Gustafsson sent shockwaves across the mixed martial arts world, yet his fight against Jon Jones is still fresh in his mind.

It is not surprising, considering how, in Jones' six-year career, the Swede had come closest to defeating a fighter many regard as the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in the world.

"I'm proud of what I did that night, I gave Jon Jones a real scare - not many people can say that," the Stockholm resident, 26, told The Straits Times in a suite at the Marina Bay Sands on Tuesday.

In town to promote the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Gustafsson, dressed in a sponsor's T-shirt and jeans, looked very much the part of one of the company's brightest stars.

In an epic five-round battle in Toronto in September, he hurt 26-year-old sensation Jones like no other before him. Not only did he take the light-heavyweight champion down for the first time in his career, his explosive right hook cut the American badly above the right eye.

On the advice of the ringside doctor, the referee nearly called a stop to the contest - which would have been a historic victory for Gustafsson - but Jones survived for his 19th win in 20 fights, by judges' decision.

A heart-wrenching and undeserving loss - according to most fans and fighters - but Gustafsson looks at it differently.

"People now know what I'm capable of and I also know what more I have to do to win the belt."

Jones, who was heavily favoured by experts and bookmakers, later called it the toughest fight of his career.

Gustafsson's feat made him a celebrity back home - Swedish football icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic tweeted that his compatriot was the "true champion".

"To be praised by a great athlete like Zlatan, that's super cool, even though I don't know him personally," said the ginger-haired brawler, who is nicknamed "The Mauler" for his free-spirited attack.

"I get recognised in the streets more but I'm not some kind of rock star like the Swedish ice hockey players."

MMA brings together martial arts exponents with backgrounds such as karate and wrestling in unarmed combat. Gustafsson, who holds a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, hopes to see the sport in the Olympics one day.

He said: "To reach that goal, we need to educate the public that it's not as dangerous as it looks.

"There are a lot of tactics and thinking behind it - it's not just two crazy guys swinging their arms and beating the hell out of each other."

With a 15-2 win-loss record, he returns to the Octagon in March to face fellow hard-hitter Jimi Manuwa at a UFC event in London.

A rematch with Jones is on hold for now, although fans - and Gustafsson himself - are yearning for another classic.

When the time comes, he will prepare the same as before, closely studying videos of Jones' sleek moves and identifying rare weaknesses, which he keeps to himself. He said resolutely: "I will finish Jon Jones off the next time we meet."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

Tickets for UFC Fight Night Singapore, which range from $88 to $688, are on sale on the MBS website and Sistic outlets


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