Alexander Gustafsson is hunting some big game these days. And it seems he's learned well the UFC's foremost unspoken rules for hauling that monster fight into your truck.
Rule No. 1: Be an aggressive fighter.
Rule No. 2: Be vocal about what you want.
Rule No. 3: Be an aggressive fighter.
Despite taking decisions in his last two fights—impressive wins over dangerous strikers Thiago Silva and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua—Gustafsson seems well versed in rules one and three. Twelve of his 15 pro victories came by stoppage, with nine of those 12 coming by T/KO.
Just to be safe, though, on Monday Gustafsson reiterated his full intention to finish his next opponent—Strikeforce standout Gegard Mousasi, who Gustafsson fights April 6.
"I have two decisions in a row, and I'm not a decision guy," Gustafsson told broadcaster Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. "[Stoppages are] what I want to get back to, and this fight is going to be a finish for sure."
That only leaves rule No. 2. And it appears the Sweden native—all wildfire in the cage but more of a languid-flowing stream outside of it—is coming around on that one. Before the Shogun fight, UFC president Dana White said the winner would get the next title shot. Well, that didn't materialize. After watching resident fast-talking charisma oil merchant Chael P. Sonnen leapfrog him for the next shot at champion Jon Jones, Gustafsson now knows what he has to do.
"My biggest concern right now is Mousasi….I’m going to grab the mic from whoever has it after the fight, and I’m going challenge the champ," Gustafsson said Monday. "No more Mr. Nice Guy. No more running. It’s time."
So that's the plan. The only question now is: Will it work?
Jones is heavily favored to defeat Sonnen when they fight April 27. For the sake of a simple argument, and with no disrespect to journalist crusher Sonnen, let's assume that happens. Just a week and a half ago, White said Lyoto Machida is now the top contender after the defensive-minded Machida decisioned Dan Henderson.
But we've all seen that Jones-Machida movie before (see UFC 140). Not only that, but you can rest assured the build-up to a rematch would be a platitude-laden shot of Nyquil.
For the time being, Machida has the UFC's verbal endorsement in his pocket. But we all know how solid those are. Gustafsson is young, he's likable, he's exciting and he's the face of the sport in an emerging overseas market. Maybe he's not known for bringing a lot of heat to the hype, but a good call-out would show he's willing and able to play the game. Add to that a stoppage of the streaking Mousasi, and now you're hunting with live bullets.
Here's what it boils down to: Dana White probably doesn't actively seek a reason to publicly change his opinion. But it appears he's willing to do it if you give him a reason. That's all Gustafsson needs to do: Give White a reason to proclaim that his performance earned him the right to hop over Machida. If Gustafsson does in April what he said he'd do Monday, White will have that reason, and Gustafsson will have the biggest trophy fight of his career.