A couple of the top-ranked light heavyweight contenders in the world are set to square off at the spring, and here are my first thoughts on this pivotal matchup in 205lbs.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Smith, UFC Fight Night 152
With both guys coming from reductions to Jon Jones in their past individual excursions, the UFC matchmakers have gone matched up Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith to the main event of UFC Fight Night 152. The card occurs June 1 at Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, and this five-round headlining bout was first reported by ESPN’s Brett Okamoto.
At first glance, this is a fight that makes sense with the two guys needing to rally following their losses to Jones. Gustafsson suffered a TKO defeat to Jones at the primary event of UFC 232, while Smith dropped a lopsided decision to Jones in UFC 235. Together with the UFC needing a principal event for its return to Sweden, it obviously made sense for Gustafsson to headline the card, and for Smith it’s a chance to acquire another major event fight after years of being a journeyman in the game.
At the same time, however, it’s very surprising to see Smith get back in the cage soon and signal a bout agreement not two weeks after getting beat up real good by Jones at UFC 235. Smith did not mount much offense in that fight and bore the brunt about 25 minutes of Jones’ strikes, and later said he wished to take time away to rest and relax after a hectic schedule in 2018 and 2019. Clearly, however, the allure of becoming another main event slot against a leading competition like Gustafsson was too much for Smith to maneuver on.
Gustafsson (18-5) is 10-5 overall in the UFC and before the loss to Jones had won back-to-back conflicts over Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowicz. Always a lady, Gustafsson has been one of the top contenders in 205lbs for much of the 2010s but has never been able to win the title despite three cracks at itagainst Jones and one against Daniel Cormier. Smith (31-14) is 7-4 overall in the UFC but is 3-1 since moving up to light heavyweight, with wins over Mauricio”Shogun” Rua, Rashad Evans and Volkan Oezdemir winning him a shot at Jones. He revealed against Jones that he’s simply not on the champ’s level, but he still remains a very good contender at 205lbs.
As for the opening betting line for this battle, I feel the oddsmakers will set Gustafsson as the favorite here, although I doubt he unlocks over 2-to-1. Smith has shown since moving up to light heavyweight that he has more knockout power and endurance in his new weight class, and that I wouldn’t completely count him out of the struggle. Still, Gustafsson is the skilled fighter and will of course be battling in his hometown which should give him an increase. Irrespective of who wins, this ought to be a very exciting matchup between two of the greatest dogs in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.
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