Breaking Down Gustafsson vs Mousasi

So the UFC returns to the Ericsson Globe Arena this Saturday, with UFC on Fuel TV 9, featuring for the second time in as many trips, Stockholm's own Alexander Gustafsson headling the card. Last time around, he won a unanimous decision against Thiago Silva, and then went on to win another one against Shogun Rua at UFC on Fox in December.

Although it has been stated that Lyoto Machida is next in line for a shot at the light heavyweight title, you have to believe that things could change with a dominant outing here from Gustafsson. He faces Gegard Mousasi, a 36-fight veteran who after fighting in organizations like Strikeforce, M-1, and Pride, finally makes his UFC debut. 'The Dreamcatcher' enters the octagon on a three-fight wining streak, having most recently beaten Mike Kyle at the final Strikeforce event in January.

Mousasi has one loss in his last 22 fights, a stretch which includes wins over Hector Lombard, Rameau Sokoudju, Melvin Manhoef, 'Jacare' Souza, Mark Hunt, 'Bobalu' Sobral, and Ovince St. Preux. His one loss came against 'King Mo' Lawal at Strikeforce: Nashville in 2010. Gustafsson also only has one loss in that same time period, a submission loss to Phil Davis at UFC 112, the only difference being Gustafsson's entire sixteen-fight career took place within that time frame. His current six-fight streak features submissions over Cyrille Diabate and James Te Huna, TKO wins over Matt Hamill and Vladimir Matyushenko, and unanimous decisions over Silva and Rua.

These two currently sport the two best records aside from the champion Jon Jones at 205 pounds, and they each are hoping a win over the other will elevate them to top contender status. Gustafsson is four inches taller than Mousasi, but only has a half-inch reach advantage over him, so that won't be a factor. These guys both finish over half of their fights by KO/TKO, with Mousasi having a slightly higher striking accuracy rate throughout his career, at 51% vs Gustafssons 36%. Gustafsson absorbs more strikes per minute, with a FightMetric average of 2.29 shots eaten per minute compared to Mousasi's 1.07. That's a bit of difference, unlike their strikes landed per minute average, which shows Gustafsson achieving 3.98 strikes every 60 seconds, and Mousasi landing an average of 3.66.

This means Gustafsson is less accurate, but lands more. The stats on the feet are close, but tilt slightly in Gegard Mousasi's favor, especially considering he defends against 70% of strikes thrown his way, whereas Gustafsson defends against 50%. When we look at the grappling, Gustafsson goes for slightly more takedowns, with 2.56 per fight vs Mousasi's 1.95. Mousasi lands 65% of his takedowns vs Gustafsson's 50%, but 'Mauler' defends against 84% of takedowns shot on him vs Mousasi's 51%. On paper these two tend to mute each other. They both fight orthodox, and are only a year apart in age. Mousasi blocks shots at a higher clip, and is slightly more accurate.

Gustaffson utilizes his rangey kicks, but might be hesitant against a dangerous ground fighter like Mousasi, who has finished fights from virtually every position on the ground, and may be on the lookout to catch one of those kicks and get it to the canvas. On the other side of that coin, Gustafsson defends takedowns better than Mousasi, and is lighter on his feet, so he may not be gunshy with his legs.

Mousasi's job in this one is going to be to close the distance and outwork Gustaffson from up close. He's got to avoid the right hand of Gustaffson, which seems to come from all angles, and close off Gustaffson's paths to circle out and find his range. I'd say his best bet is get it to the ground, where Alex was dominated by Phil Davis. That's going to be tough, because Gustafsson has improved tremendously since that fight, and has only diversified his striking, and showed some good submission defense against Shogun in his last fight.

Gegard Mousasi is a durable veteran with the tools to reach the top of the 205-pound heap in a few fights at most, but I just don't see him being able to impose his will on Gustafsson. Look for Gustafsson to keep Mousasi at bay and get back up if it goes to the ground. I see him winning this one by decision, but that's only because I can't envision Mousasi getting floored or tapped out.
This is a huge, huge, huge light heavyweight fight, with two of the most dangerous and dynamic fighters in all of mixed martial arts, and either would be an intriguing match for the winner of Jones/Sonnen.

(Note: At the time of this posting the fight is still on.)  

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