Alexander Gustafsson fights Jan Blachowicz at light heavyweight in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night: Arlovski vs Barnett
Single sentence summary:
After a tough few years, Gustafsson finally gets a softer touch
Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson 16-4-0
Jan Blachowicz 19-5-0
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
There are two extreme ways of looking at Alexander Gustafsson’s career. One is that he is a decent, upper-tier fighter who managed to catch the greatest champion we’ve ever seen on an off day. The second is that he’s a championship-quality fighter who has come achingly close to capturing gold on two occasions. In either case, there’s definitely an argument for giving him an easier fight right now. Getting knocked out in front of your countrymen and then immediately losing a brutal, gruelling championship fight would test the resolve of the toughest competitor. Another elite opponent would run the risk of breaking Gustafsson’s competitive spirit permanently. That is if it’s not broken already.
Jan Blachowicz is, unfortunately for the Pole, that easier fight. His main claim to fame thus far in the UFC has been his knockout of Ilir Latifi. It was more of a demonstration of Gustafsson’s fellow Swede’s ongoing flaws (namely, that Latifi is extremely footslow) than of the announcement of a new contender. This is a good old fashioned setup fight.
What are the stakes?
Aside from an indication of where exactly Gustafsson is at, there aren’t many. For all its shallowness, the light heavyweight division is a little clogged at the moment, with Jones, Cormier and Rumble waiting to fill out their dance cards. Even if one of them is left without someone to fight, they’ll likely just wait for the other two to finish up.
Gustafsson has lost to all three of them, and Blachowicz is relatively unproven. We’re talking fights around the OSP / Bader-Latifi winner level for whoever comes out on top.
Where do they want it?
Gustafsson is not just an outfighter but the classic example of a boxer. Like his rival Jones, Gustafsson functions well on the outside, but unlike Jones he has prioritized movement over control. Essentially he fights very tall, which allows him to use his feet more easily to escape from pressure, but makes him more vulnerable to cross counters and eats into his range. That range is still very good, and is primarily dictated by the eternally effective jab and hook mixup.
He’s a little like Junior Dos Santos in that his hands (and more specifically the jab) are extremely polished, but the rest of his game is a little rough around the edges. His footwork has a tendency to collapse under pressure, and his kicks are often poorly set up. However, unlike Dos Santos he’s offensively very well-rounded, doling out knees and uppercuts in the clinch and the pocket respectively, with a surprisingly lethal strike or submit top game, and clever redirection takedowns where he uses angles to unbalance opponents along left-to-right axes rather than the normal top-to-bottom ones (instead of “driving underneath” think “deflecting to the side”). He keeps a fantastic pace.
If Blachowicz is to win this fight, he almost certainly has to do it either all the way out or all the way in. He’s an example of a stance switching fighter who nonetheless only fights from one side. He fights in orthodox with the jab and the hook, and he switches to southpaw which he uses almost exclusively for the left body kick, Cub Swanson-style. Blachowicz’ other area of strength is in the clinch, where he’s adept at landing elbows and knees.
Each of the potential areas of victory for Blachowicz has a large problem associated with it: kicking requires him to keep distance… but he’s not quick on his feet. At the other end of things, he may be able to get something done in the clinch, but it will wear on a gas tank which has consistently proved to be a liability. It also puts him at risk of Gustafsson’s superior wrestling game.
Insight from past fights?
In the UFC, Blachowicz has only really been able to keep the absolute slowest fighters on the outside, namely a more inefficient version of Ilir Latifi and Igor Pokrajac. Jimi Manuwa managed to close distance on him and put him on the cage consistently, while dealing with a blown ACL.
Gustafsson headspace is the only real one, but he’ll have to mess up pretty badly even if he’s not completely on his game. However, although the odds are accurate, Blachowicz still hits hard, and while Gustafsson is incredibly resilient, it’s also feasible that Blachowicz could hurt him to the body. The gut is historically something of a cheat code for bypassing toughness.
Blachowicz will probably be able to land shots, but he’s outclassed in pace, power, and virtually every technical area apart from kicking. Alexander Gustafsson by TKO, round 2.
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