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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Fight Night 109

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A star-making performance by Alexander Gustafsson may have earned him a light heavyweight title shot by the end of the year.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Gustafsson vs Teixeira
Alexander Gustafsson (left) is embraced by his girlfriend Moa Antonia Johansson (right) following his proposal in the octagon after defeating Glover Teixeira (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night 109 at Ericsson Globe.
Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Alexander Gustafsson's Sunday afternoon was like the ending scene of a "Happily Ever After" movie.

He won a grueling fight in front his hometown fans in Stockholm, Sweden, asked his girlfriend to get married, and she said yes, all within a few minutes on live television.

A star in UFC almost from his arrival in 2009, Gustafsson was on the losing end of two of the best championship fights in light heavyweight division history — the classic with Jon Jones and a fight with Daniel Cormier that he lost via split decision.

The loss to Cormier marked his third loss in four fights. While the loss to Jones elevated his standing in the MMA world and the Cormier fight shouldn't have hurt him given how close he came to taking the title, the losses had piled up by that point. Still, Gustafsson had given Jones easily the hardest fight of his career, and when it was over, people were clamoring for a rematch.

The Cormier fight was one that on paper that Gustafsson had no business losing. Sure, Cormier beating Gustafsson in an MMA fight that turned into a grinding wrestling match wouldn't have been a shock. Phil Davis did the same thing years earlier. But the fight turned into a standing war, as Gustafsson's wrestling game had improved to a level where nobody was taking him down without a fight. Gustafsson was probably seven inches taller than Cormier, and he had trained in striking since childhood, while “DC” was 30 before he ever seriously picked up gloves. Gustafsson was also eight years younger. But in the final round, it was Cormier who came out ahead.

Combine that with a prior knockout loss to Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, along with lingering back injuries, and Gustafsson until Sunday was mostly viewed in the past tense when it came to serious title contenders. Interest in the Jones fight had waned. But Gustafssson looked so impressive at UFC Fight Night 109 that he's now probably usurped Jimi Manuwa at the head of the line waiting for the Cormier vs Jones title rematch on July 29 in Anaheim, Calif.

While every fight is different, and different opponents’ strengths and weaknesses always change how people look, the Gustafsson who showed up on Sunday looked quicker, threw better combinations, and generally looked superior to the fighter who nearly took out Jones and Cormier.

As he landed the combination of three uppercuts and a right cross that ended Glover Teixiera's night, you couldn't help but think that if this version of Gustafsson had been in the cage with Jones in 2013 or Cormier in 2015, that the result of both fights could have — and maybe even would have — been different. If nothing else, the prevailing thought was that if this version of Gustafsson faced the version of Jones who beat Ovince Saint Preux in his last outing, that Jones may not be viewed today by fans as the uncrowned division king.

A great fight. An emotional, heartwarming ending. The night couldn't have been scripted better for Gustafsson, except perhaps if this had aired on FOX before a much wider audience. In the UFC's frustrating attempts to make superstars and create big drawing fights, the moment where Gustafsson not just looked like a possible champion, but won the hearts of the fanbase, was on an early Sunday afternoon show over Memorial Day weekend. It was the worst time slot of the year to draw a major audience.

Perhaps Teixeira, who was trying without success to land the game-changing big punch most of the way, as opposed to mixing things up like Jones and Cormier would likely do, was the opponent who made Gustafsson look like he was new and improved. Still, in the styles-make-fights game, Gustafsson is clearly the one guy who can match Jones for reach — the edge that has kept Jones on top for years.

Sunday’s show didn't have a lot of big name depth, but the two top fights were both important when it came to the light heavyweight division's top mix. Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five Stars of the show.

ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON - Now 18-4, Gustafsson will be looking for a ‘third time is the charm’ title shot later this year. It will be four years since the first Jones fight. While Jones vs. Cormier may be bigger because of the history between the two outside of the cage and their visibility as top stars, there are few other fights on the UFC’s horizon that would appear to have more interest than a Jones vs. Gustafsson rematch this year.

It is possible that if Cormier does beat Jones, depending how the fight goes, that a trilogy fight between Cormier and Jones could be put together. But that, or an injury, would seem to be the only things that should keep Gustafsson from the next title shot.

GLOVER TEIXEIRA - At 37, Teixeira took the most punishment he’s taken in his career at UFC Fight Night 109. While Teixeira earned respect for never showing any quit while being busted up, those are the type of fights that you don't want too many of. He could possibly be a viable opponent for Cormier, provided Cormier loses to Jones and wants to continue fighting. If not, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (25-10) looks like a good next opponent.

VOLKAN OEZDEMIR - Despite being ranked the No. 5 light heavyweight contender coming into the fight, Oezdemir (14-1) is mostly an unknown. His ranking in many ways speaks more for the division being thinned out by Phil Davis and Ryan Bader leaving for Bellator. He got the ranking for making his short-notice debut with an upset over Ovince Saint Preux. Now, given his 28-second knockout win over Misha Cirkunov in his second UFC fight, he may very well jump up two spots to No. 3 behind Gustafsson and Manuwa. (Jones, still on suspension for another month, can't be ranked yet.)

But you learn very little out of a 28-second fight. It makes all the sense in the world to put him against Manuwa (17-2) and add that to the July 29 show, and that’s exactly what happened. The key is that there are two viable contenders getting ready for that date in case something happens with Cormier or Jones. Given the history of things going wrong right before those two have been set to fight many times before, fighters who are top-ranked in the division being booked on the same show provides for a viable alternative.

If Oezdemir can beat Manuwa, he'll be a viable title contender before most fans have even learned to pronounce his name.

MISHA CIRKUNOV - Cirkunov (13-3) came into the fight on an eight-fight winning streak that was promptly snapped. Corey Anderson (9-3), who is coming off a loss to Manuwa, would make sense as a next opponent. All Sunday proved is that Cirkunov left himself open and got caught. He still can be a player in the division.

PEDRO MUNHOZ - Munhoz (14-2, 1 no contest) came in as No. 12 on the bantamweight contenders list. While No. 6 Bryan Caraway doesn't have a fight, Munhoz as an opponent doesn't really benefit him and he hasn't been active of late. Viable opponents include No. 14 ranked Joe Soto (18-5) and a dark horse in Luke Sanders (11-1), an unranked fighter who was dominating No. 13 ranked Iuri Alcantara in his last fight before falling victim to a kneebar.