A little over two weeks after Alexander Gustafsson gave the UFC’s light heavyweight champion Jon Jones everything he could handle in what was one of the greatest title fights in company history, the Swedish challenger is left to think about what could have been. But the truth is, even as he gained massive respect in defeat, the goal was never to go the distance with Jones, nor to send him to the hospital, nor to essentially "humanize" him for unbelieving eyes to see.
The goal was always to walk through customs in Toronto with that heavy gold-plated accessory, as he made his way back home to his native Stockholm.
A lot of people were disappointed with the UFC’s decision to next book Glover Teixeira in a title fight against Jones, rather than play back the immediate rematch. To many it feels like a missed chance to strike while the iron is hot. Gustafsson, who appeared on Monday’s edition of the MMA Hour, can understand the aggravation.
But "understanding" it doesn’t mean he likes it.
"Yeah, yeah, I really thought [we’d do the rematch]," he told Ariel Helwani. "In my head, it was a done deal. But, now we are in this situation, and I am just waiting for my opponent. I was disappointed, but it is what it is, and that won’t stop me. I will fight whoever the UFC gives me, and after that I’ll be ready for a title fight again."
Jones and Teixeira were originally thought to be headlining the UFC 169 in Newark, though now it looks like that fight will happen in March. As for Gustafsson, he only knows right now that the UFC intends to put him on a card close to the Jones fight -- perhaps in Sweden (as Dana White alluded to a couple of weeks ago), or perhaps elsewhere (like London). The only thing the Swede knows for sure is this: He will have to beat somebody before he gets that rematch with Jones.
When asked if he had a preference for that fight, Gustafsson seemed genuinely at a loss to come up with an appropriate name.
"I don’t, I actually don’t," he told Ariel Helwani. "The only thing that makes sense for me is Jon Jones. That’s the fight I want, and that’s the fight I have in my head still. And it will be in my head until I am given another opponent, and I will put all my focus on that one. But I don’t have any preference."
A few names have surfaced as possible opponents for Gustafsson, including Gegard Mousasi (who was scheduled to face him in April, yet is now focused on moving to middleweight), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (who was scheduled to face Gustafsson in April 2012, but was scrapped due to injury), and Phil Davis (his Alliance training partner, who fought him in 2010 at UFC 112 and stands as his only loss in the UFC other than Jones).
As for the Davis, Gustafsson’s training partner for the last couple of years, he says he would rather fight about anybody than him.
"We’re close friends, we’re teammates, and I would prefer not to fight him," he said. "If the UFC wants us to fight for a title or, who knows what the future will bring, we will take that question then, but I will not fight Phil Davis if it’s up to me."
Gustafsson also cleared the air on a report that he had recently left Alliance. In reality, he says, all if fine between them. He’s just spending a little more time in Stockholm.
"Yeah, I am, I train in Sweden and I’m based in Sweden, it’s where my home is," he said. "But, we still have a close relationship with Team Alliance."
Of course, the Jones-Gustafsson rematch will loom over both fighters until the day it is booked. We have seen plenty of times throughout the UFC’s recent history where anticipated matchups get lost on the obstacle leading up to them. Should Gustafsson navigate his way into another title shot in 2014, he holds out hope that it’s Jones standing across from him.
Therefore, wherever he is when Jones next steps into the Octagon, Gustafsson will be pulling for the current light heavyweight champion to defend his title for a seventh time against Glover Teixeira.
"Yeah, you know it will be a great fight," he said. "No one should count Glover out, because he’s a strong guy and he hits super-hard. He’s a strong guy. But I think Jones has too many tools for Glover, and I think he will beat him. And for me the big goal is the belt, and if I fight Jones again and take the belt from him, that’s my dream."