Alexander Gustafsson officially has a new dance partner for his highly anticipated return to the Octagon.
While his original opponent Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was forced out of the bout with a back injury just five days after the fight was made official, on Tuesday, the UFC announced "Lil Nog's" replacement in undefeated British slugger Jimi Manuwa.
The 33-year-old powerhouse has been a wrecking machine since joining the UFC roster in late 2012. The "Poster Boy" has collected three consecutive victores—all coming by way of stoppage—with his most recent outing against Ryan Jimmo at Fight Night 30 ending with via TKO in the second round.
While the bout was officially called due to the Canadian suffering a leg injury, Manuwa was beating him to the punch at a high percentage, all the while taking minimal damage of his own. The bout with Gustafsson will undoubtedly be the biggest of Manuwa's career and will present a tremendous opportunity for the Nigerian-born fighter to catapult himself onto the title radar at 205-pounds.
As for Gustafsson, the bout with Manuwa presents the proposed road back to a title shot. Following his instant classic and "Fight of the Year" worthy performance against pound-for-pound great Jon Jones at UFC 165 in September, Gustafsson campaigned for an immediate rematch, but the UFC opted to go a different route and tapped surging contender Glover Teixeira to face Jones Next.
Nevertheless, UFC President Dana White never pushed Gustafsson too far out of the picture as he deemed the Team Alliance fighter would be granted another shot at championship gold if he found success in his next fight.
Gustafsson vs. Manuwa is set to take place when the UFC returns to London's O2 Arena on March 8 and will be the main event of a "Fight Night" card which will air on Fox Sports 2.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.