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A couple of the top-ranked light heavyweight contenders in the world are set to square off in the spring, and below are my initial thoughts on this pivotal matchup at 205lbs.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Smith, UFC Fight Night 152
With both guys coming from reductions to Jon Jones in their past respective excursions, the UFC matchmakers have gone ahead and matched up Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith to the primary event of UFC Fight Night 152. The card occurs June 1 in Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, also this five-round headlining bout was first reported by ESPN’s Brett Okamoto.
At first glance, this is a fight that makes sense with both men needing to rebound following their losses to Jones. Gustafsson endured a TKO defeat to Jones in the primary event of UFC 232, while Smith lost a lopsided decision to Jones in UFC 235. Together with the UFC needing a main event for its return to Sweden, it naturally made sense for Gustafsson to headline the card, and for Smith it’s an opportunity to acquire another main event fight after years of being a journeyman in the game.
At precisely the same time, nevertheless, it’s very surprising to see Smith get back in the cage so soon and sign up a bout agreement not even two weeks after having beat up real good by Jones in UFC 235. Smith did not mount much crime in that struggle and bore the brunt about 25 minutes of Jones’ attacks, and later said he wished to take time off to rest and unwind after a busy schedule in 2018 and 2019. Certainly, though, the allure of getting another main event slot against a leading contender like Gustafsson was too much for Smith to maneuver on.
Gustafsson (18-5) is 10-5 overall in the UFC and before the loss to Jones had won back fights over Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowicz. Always a bridesmaid, Gustafsson has been one of the top contenders at 205lbs for much of this 2010s but has never been able to acquire the title despite three cracks in it, two against Jones and one against Daniel Cormier. Smith (31-14) is 7-4 overall from the UFC but is 3-1 since moving up to light heavyweight, with wins over Mauricio”Shogun” Rua, Rashad Evans and Volkan Oezdemir winning him a shot Jones. He showed against Jones that he is simply not about the champ’s level, but he remains a very good contender at 205lbs.
In terms of the opening betting line with this battle, I believe the oddsmakers will place Gustafsson as the favorite here, although I doubt he unlocks over 2-to-1. Smith has shown since moving up to light heavyweight that he has more knockout power and durability in his new weight class, and that I wouldn’t completely count him from the struggle. Still, Gustafsson is the more skilled fighter and will of course be fighting in his hometown which should provide him an increase. Irrespective of who wins, this ought to be a very exciting matchup between two of the greatest dogs at the UFC’s light heavyweight division.
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