The UFC on Fox franchise returns with the 14th edition of the series, and the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm, Sweden is the venue for a Light heavyweight main event with huge title implications.
Hometown hero Alexander Gustafsson fights in Sweden for just the sixth time time in his career, and the 16-2 fighter is the ½ betting favourite against America’s Anthony “Rumble” Johnson who is available at around 2/1.
Although called an Arena, the Tele2 is actually a stadium, and this is only the second time a UFC event will be held in such a large venue, following a momentous event at Canada’s Rogers Centre in 2011.
Gustafsson gave current UFC Light heavyweight Champion Jon Jones the hardest fight of his career in their September 2013 bout, but has since fought only once, defeating England’s Jimi Manuwa in London back in March. The Swede was due to rematch Jones late last year, but a knee injury forced him out of the contest, and only a win here will establish himself as the authentic number one contender.
Speaking to The Independent from Stockholm, Gustafsson was relaxed about his upcoming fight, and confident about his chances.
“It’s hard for me to imagine what it’s going to be like fighting in front of that many people. When I fought in 2012 here against Thiago Silva the atmosphere was crazy, so it will probably be twice as crazy here. I think I compete much better at home because of all the people screaming my name.
“Johnson has done very well, he’s a strong guy and explosive, that’s what he is. The only thing that beats strength is speed, and that’s what I’ll use. I’m going to make a statement, it’s not going to go to a decision. I know for a fact I will win the fight no matter what.”
Anthony Johnson (18-4) has had a lengthy UFC career, which was initially terminated in early 2012 after he missed weight a number of times. Back then, the 6,2 star was having to lose as much as 50 pounds each training camp to reach Welterweight or Middleweight, but a run of six wins in a row away from the UFC, including a Heavyweight victory over Andrei Arlovski saw him rejoin the company last year.
Since his return, he has won two fights over top ten members of his new weight class, including a dominant points win over Phil Davis, and most recently a 44 second KO victory over Antônio Rogério Nogueira. Johnson has only fought once outside of America, when he lost to Vitor Belfort in de Janeiro in January 2012, an experience that he talked about from Sweden, along with his expectations for the fight.
“After fighting in Brazil and dealing with that crowd, I can deal with any crowd in the world. This crowd will be a piece of cake compared to Brazil.
“I always picture myself winning the fight, I don’t know how but I always do one way or another. The way I see this is because I’m always going to go out and do my best, and if he feels like he’s going to stop me in the fight, then my hat goes off to him for thinking that - he should think like that.
“My mentality right now is calm, cool and collected. Don’t be surprised if Alex gets knocked out, don’t be surprised if I throw a heavy leg kick or something like that. With the calibre of athlete that Alex is, and the calibre I am anything can happen. I truly believe in myself in ability, and I think I’m going to win.”
Whatever happens in the fight, it is not expected to go the distance, with odds of 5/2 available for those who think it will. Johnson’s power is enough to trouble anybody, and he is a huge 15/2 to stop Gustafsson, while many insiders are suggesting if the fight goes to the ground, Johnson could be submitted, and 13/2 odds may tempt some that way.
Chief support on the undercard is a Middleweight contest between 44-year-old Dan Henderson, and 29-year-old Gegard Mousasi who has already had 42 MMA fights in his career.
Henderson (30-12) is a true legend of the sport, but has lost four of his last five fights, albeit against world class opposition in each bout. His lone win during that run was a shocking come from behind victory against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in March last year, but many feel this could be a fight too many for Henderson.
Mousasi is not in great form either, having dropped two of his last three fights, and needs a convincing victory here to remind people just why he was being talked about as a potential title contender when he signed with the UFC. The bookies can’t see past Mousasi at ¼, while those fancying Henderson to roll back the years one last time can wager bets at 19/5.
Elsewhere on the main card, two Light heavyweight wrestling dynamos compete, as Phil Davis and Ryan Bader square off, while Sweden’s own Akira Corassani opens the main televised portion of the event against Sam Sicilia.
There is plenty of British and Irish interest during the early stages of the night, with Dublin’s Flyweight Neil Seery opening the show against Chris Beal, while another Irishman, former Cage Warriors star Paul Redmond makes his UFC debut against the undefeated Swedish supremo Mirsad Bektic.
Elsewhere, Newcastle’s Andy Ogle looks to wipe away a three fight losing streak against Finland’s Makwan Amirkhani.
The excellent commentary team of John Gooden and Dan Hardy will be the voices of the event for fans in the UK watching the event, which will be shown on BT Sport 1, Saturday night, starting at 10.00pm.Reuse content