Two of the top-ranked light heavyweight contenders in the entire world are set to square off in the spring, and below are my first thoughts on this pivotal matchup at 205lbs.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Smith, UFC Fight Night 152
With both men coming off of reductions to Jon Jones in their last individual excursions, the UFC matchmakers have gone ahead and matched up Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith to the main event of UFC Fight Night 152. The card takes place June 1 in Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, and this five-round headlining bout was first reported by ESPN’s Brett Okamoto.
At first glance, this is a struggle that makes sense with both guys needing to rally after their losses to Jones. Gustafsson suffered a TKO defeat to Jones in the primary event of UFC 232, while Smith dropped a lopsided decision to Jones in UFC 235. With the UFC needing a main event because of its return to Sweden, it naturally made sense for Gustafsson to headline the card, and for Smith it’s an opportunity to get another major event fight after years of being a journeyman from the game.
At precisely the exact same time, nevertheless, it is very surprising to see Smith get back into the cage so soon and sign a bout agreement not even two weeks after getting beat up real good by Jones in UFC 235. Smith did not mount much offense in that struggle and bore the brunt about 25 minutes of Jones’ strikes, and afterwards said he wished to take time off to rest and relax after a hectic schedule in 2018 and 2019. Certainly, however, the allure of becoming another major event slot against a leading competition like Gustafsson was too much for Smith to pass on.
Gustafsson (18-5) is 10-5 overall in the UFC and prior to the reduction to Jones had won back fights over Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowicz. Always a bridesmaid, Gustafsson has been one of the best contenders in 205lbs for much of the 2010s but has never been able to acquire the title despite three cracks at it, two against Jones and one against Daniel Cormier. Smith (31-14) is 7-4 overall in 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’s just not on the champ’s level, but he remains a very solid contender at 205lbs.
In terms of the opening betting line with this battle, I feel the oddsmakers will place Gustafsson as the favorite here, though I doubt he opens over 2-to-1. Smith has shown since moving up to light heavyweight he has more knockout power and endurance in his new weight class, and I would not completely count him from this struggle. However, Gustafsson is the more skilled fighter and will of course be battling in his hometown that ought to provide him a boost. Irrespective of who wins, this should be a very exciting matchup between two of the top dogs at the UFC’s light heavyweight division.
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