On Saturday, one of the greatest MMA fighters to not hold a belt, retired from the sport. After losing via submission in the fourth round to Anthony Smith, Alexander Gustafsson announced, first in the Octagon and then again later in his post-fight press conference, that he would be retiring from mixed martial arts – symbolically laying his gloves down in the cage.
‘The Mauler’ should go down in MMA history, producing two of the greatest title fights in the UFC, against Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Though in the record books he came up short on both occasions, debates rage to this day as to whether or not he actually lost either fight. Gustafsson was almost the last of the ‘old guard’ in the Light Heavyweight division (other than Jones himself), with a mix of new contenders beginning to come to the fore. He seems to have been against becoming a ‘gatekeeper’, a la Frankie Edgar.
In a pre-fight interview, Gustafsson admitted that he might not have what it takes anymore, perhaps lacking the love and enthusiasm for stepping in against contenders like Smith, when he has already climbed that mountain and fallen down three times before. If that is the case, it’s completely understandable, and in it’s own right, impressive. We often see fighters push themselves way too far, for that one last payday, or to recreate the adrenaline rush. Gustafsson has struggled with injuries going back six years, limiting to just seven fights in that period, it’s clear that his body is ready for a break.
Gustafsson will leave the sport, and it’s fans, with some incredible memories. His first fight against Jon Jones is still, to this day, one of my favourites of all time. Two great fighters, in their prime, showing exactly how thrilling an MMA fight can be even when it goes to a decision.
His fight against DC followed a very similar pattern, producing yet another Hall of Fame worthy performance, and leaving an impression on the fans that would have us clamouring for more, desperate for his return to the top of the division, for five years.
Not to forget his highlight reel knockout of Glover Texeria in 2017, perhaps the greatest version of Gus we’ve ever seen inside the Octagon. The smooth delivery of three quick uppercuts, before slipping the punch, and calmly delivering the final blow to knock his opponent down – one of my favourite knockout sequences of all time.
After this, he proposed to his long term girlfriend, in the middle of the Octagon, in his hometown – it’s a memory that he will likely treasure for the rest of his life.
That is the Gus that we should remember, the wrecking ball who could put away anyone in the division, and the man that gave Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier their toughest tests. He may not have won the title, but he is most certainly a legend.
Thank you, Gus.