A title shot at UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones is more than a suitable reward for the winner of the headline bout at the UFC on Fox 14 event between Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Johnson.
On one side of the octagon and with home advantage in the Stockholm showcase is Gustaffson, who famously looked hard done by when losing a unanimous decision to Jones at UFC 165, which was also honoured as UFC fight of the year for 2013.
Not that this accolade heals any of the scars of that loss for Gustafsson, who holds aces in numerous areas against Johnson and here are the three that make him the worthy favourite at 5/13 to triumph and theoretically secure a rematch with Jones.
Gustafsson has said of Johnson that he’s “one-dimensional, “doesn’t move a lot, comes in hard, throws the left kick, left hook, straight right, but I’m not afraid of his wrestling at all”.
There is no doubting that Johnson has knockout power in his hands and feet, but the doubt is whether his preferred counter-punching style will work on the Swede.
Gustafsson is unlikely to throw the big lead punch and step forward into Johnson’s range. Instead, he will surely use his superior lateral movement to box on the outside and rely on his jab to move ahead on the scorecards.
This in turn may cause Johnson to throw more wild punches in an effort to land a knockout blow. Gustafsson can take a shot too, as he proved in the final round of his first bout with Jones, when on the receiving end of some heavy blows.
Although Johnson is a former amateur wrestling champion, he is yet to win a single MMA fight by submission and does tend to rely on his boxing.
If he needs to attempt a plan B, Gustafsson has the second-highest takedown defence in the UFC light-heavyweight division, suggesting this approach will not bring sufficient reward.
Threatening a takedown by crouching into a lower stance and getting in close, before then throwing an overhand right hand may be one strategy of unsettling Gustafsson though.
This is surely the biggest mis-match between the pair, with Johnson having only gone three rounds on six occasions in his career and looking heavily fatigued by the final bell in the two most recent against Phil Davis and Andrei Arlovski.
Gustafsson showed against Jones that he can bang and compete for five rounds and he will have no concern about taking Johnson into the final rounds here.
The Swede will also keep Johnson on the move in the early rounds, helping to reduce his stamina further.
Johnson can’t be expected to stay on the front foot for five rounds, so those fancying him for victory must surely back the 13/5 that he wins inside the distance, over 19/10 that he simply wins the fight.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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