In the last three years, Alexander Gustafsson has lost razor-close decisions in title fights to both Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, and he's been knocked out in the first round by Anthony Johnson in front of more than 40,000 of his hometown fans.
Gustafsson remains one of the very best light heavyweight fighters on the planet. But those losses seem to have done something to his psyche. Recently, he moved down to San Diego to train with Alliance MMA, a team he has worked with for multiple camps. The goal for the Swedish star is to get his mind right.
"I'm just feeling like I have a tough time with my motivation," Gustafsson told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "It goes from time to time. Some days it's better, some days it's a little bit worse."
Gustafsson, 29, detailed his mental battles last month in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen. He said Monday that his love of training has waned "bit by bit" since losing to Jones by split decision in September 2013.
"It's been getting worse, that I'm losing that happiness in training, that motivation," Gustafsson said. "If you just train because you have to train, it's not the right reasons. It's not always shine and good feelings in training. But when it comes down to it you need to have that happiness and motivation in training."
Gustafsson (16-4) had a chance to beat both Jones and Cormier in the fifth rounds of those fights, but came up short. He believes that goes back to some of his issues with motivation.
"If you don't have that happiness in you, it's gonna be tough to motivate yourself in those hard rounds, last rounds," he said.
Despite some of the struggles, Gustafsson said he has no plans to retire and vows to fight this year, though he is not sure when or against whom.
"It's hard to just go one day from another to being one of the best fighters in the world to just stop doing what you love to do," Gustafsson said. "I am a fighter and it's what I do, what I live for. Quitting is actually not an option if you put the cards on the table. It's just emotions, feelings. It's what you have to battle every day as an athlete."
Gustafsson is at Alliance now, not for a training camp, but just focusing on the basics. He's also helping Phil Davis get ready for an upcoming Bellator light heavyweight title fight against Liam McGeary. His head coach Andreas Michael of AllStars Training Center in Sweden is in touch with Alliance coach Eric Del Fierro on a daily basis.
Right now, Gustafsson is playing it by ear. He has his girlfriend with him in San Diego. He's staying away from the Swedish winter near the beach in Southern California. He's hoping to find what he needs away from home for a while.
"A little bit of time to get on my feet and get my mind right, my motivation and so on," Gustafsson said. "I just want to fight for the right reasons, basically. But you will see me fight this year."