Exactly when the UFC’s light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will fight Glover Teixeira is still up in the air (official estimates say March or April), but Alexander Gustafsson knows when he’ll fight in his next title eliminator. That’ll happen March 8 in London, when he faces Antonio Rogerio Nogueira -- the littler of the well-known Nogs.
Dana White broke that bit of news after UFC Fight Night 30 wrapped up in Manchester on Saturday night, just before he bolted for a charter to Abu Dhabi. Places to go, people to see, and seeds to plant for what has become "The Big If..."
Now that Jones-Gustafsson II is on layaway we’re looking at turnstile bouts to push through the meanwhile, which in the UFC always feels like a temptation of fate. Gustafsson-Nogueira was a fight that was supposed to have happened a year ago, back when the rooting interests were strictly geographical. These days? Nobody will feel comfortable wording it like this, but Nogueira is being booked to lose. If that feels familiar, it’s because it is. Nogueira was supposed to lose to Rashad Evans at UFC 156, and played the most stubborn kind of spoiler. It’s why he can be fed to Gustafsson with merit.
As for Jones? Jones needs to get by Teixeira, who hasn’t lost in eight-and-a-half years. Teixeira likes to sock enough that he gets socked plenty in the process. Jones will be a huge favorite, because he can strafe Teixeira from safe distances with those long arms.
It’s funny, but even the remote set-up for Gustafsson-Jones II is centered on a campaign of reach.
And though neither Teixeira nor Nogueira feels like a particular threat to throw a monkey wrench into the system works, strange things happen in four-ounce gloves. Gustafsson wasn’t supposed to compete with Jones, yet he did. And because he did the urge is to look right through top-ten obstacles as if they were translucent, the way we once looked through Gustafsson himself. Strange things have become the norm in MMA. Gustafsson humanized Jones, which still feels like a feat to place among the seven great wonders.
And Jones still didn’t lose. Jones still didn’t lose. Now it feels mandatory to see it again, if only…if only…everything plays out the way it should.
That’s why the news of Nogueira getting the March fight in London feels like the right call for anybody pining for that rematch of UFC 165. There are a Brilz-zillion reasons to believe Gustafsson can beat Nogueira, as the oft-injured Brazilian, even with the victory over a listless Evans, would appear to be on the down slope of his career. And since Jones is fighting Teixeira, Gustafsson might as well get a visible path back to where he wants to be. He earned that much. Besides, had the UFC booked Gustafsson against Daniel Cormier, as some felt more fitting for Cormier’s debut at 205 pounds, it would have snuffed out a pending piece of drama for Jones’ 2014 calendar.
That would be a lose-lose situation. The point is less to do with finding competition for contenders, as it is finding contenders who can compete with Jones.
It’s no gimme that Gustafsson will beat Nogueira, just as it’s no sure thing that Jones will defend his title against Teixeira. We’ve seen detours like these end up in minefields before. But you know it, I know it and everybody knows it -- these bookings keep Gustafsson and Jones within each other’s reach. The fight is still on the horizon.
Even if some conditions may apply.