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Coach: Alexander Gustafsson back visiting Alliance to get out of Swedish 'spotlight'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Alexander Gustafsson has left AllStars Training Center in Sweden temporarily for Alliance MMA in San Diego. That's just business as usual, though, according to Alliance coach Eric Del Fierro.

Gustafsson, the perennial UFC light heavyweight contender, has been a part of the Alliance team for six years, going back and forth between California and his home country. Gustafsson did his camp for his title fight against Daniel Cormier at UFC 192 in Sweden, but told The Expressen last week (h/t MMA Viking) that he'd be spending a few months back in San Diego.

Del Fierro said Gustafsson is already in town and the shift was more to refocus than make any real changes in his game.

"I think he just wanted to get away and try to spend more time in the U.S., kind of take a break from being in the spotlight over there more than anything," Del Fierro told MMA Fighting. "I don't think it's necessarily any different type of training, just trying to get out of the spotlight a little bit. In Sweden, he's huge. He's just a huge athlete. He is super famous over there."

Gustafsson (16-4) fell to Cormier via split decision in October. He also narrowly fell to Jon Jones by split decision in another title fight at UFC 165 in September 2013. Gustafsson told The Expressen that he wants to improve his footwork working with UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz at Alliance. But Del Fierro doesn't really believe there's much to fix.

"His full game is amazing," the coach said. "We're always looking to improve every aspect of his game, not just his footwork. But at that level, the level he's fighting at, he needs the full game."

Del Fierro said the belief is that the fifth round is what cost Gustafsson the title on both occasions. That's not so much a cardio thing, the coach said, but a mindset thing, one that he sees changing in Gustafsson, who is still only 29 years old.

"I think it's in his mind that the fifth round is what he lost and that's what's causing it in these title fights," Del Fierro said. "I think that's one of the things that he's looking at that he needs to change. Anybody fighting for a title, it's that fifth round. It's the clincher, the one you have to close. And he's losing by a super small margin."

There's no doubting Gustafsson's mental toughness. He was knocked out in January 2015 by Anthony Johnson in front of more than 40,000 of his hometown fans in Stockholm. Then, he turned around and almost beat Cormier for the title nine months later. One thing Del Fierro sees in Gustafsson now is a confidence in his wrestling. He was able to take Cormier and Jones down, despite being known mostly for his boxing.

"He's at the point where he's slowly turning the corner of believing in himself and believing what he brings to the table," Del Fierro said. "Some of these guys that come from overseas, sometimes they're hesitant to go against an Olympic-caliber wrestler. And they just hesitate. And Alex is at the point now that he doesn't. He knows he can take down the Jon Joneses and the DCs.

"He knows it's just minor adjustments and at that level it's literally just the mental game that might need to be improved. He's got all the tools and he's shown it and he's just super tough. It's not like he's missing anything."

Gustafsson doesn't have his next fight booked right now. He's just in San Diego with his girlfriend, helping Phil Davis prepare for his Bellator title fight with Liam McGeary later this year and working on a little of everything.

Nothing major, Del Fierro said, maybe just a product of the Swedish media getting a hold of him traveling to the states. Gustafsson will be heading back to Sweden at some point and Del Fierro said he speaks to his head coach Andreas Michael on a daily basis.

"Right now, it's winter in Sweden," Del Fierro said. "It's time to get out. It's time to refresh your mind. I think he was just looking for something else right now."