Sweden is known for many things: ABBA, death metal, interesting food,beautiful women. But despite its Viking heritage, the Nordic nation isn't exactly a hotbed for combat sports stars. UFC contender Alexander "The Mauler" Gustafsson hopes to change that when he steps into the Octagon October 3 against light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 192.
Gustafsson nearly upset pound-for-pound great Jon Jones in a 2013 Fight of the Year before shockingly getting knocked out in the first round by Anthony Johnson in January. Now the Swede is seeking redemption against Cormier, and eyeing a rematch against Jones, who was stripped of the light heavyweight belt after he was charged with fleeing the scene of an April car accident that left a pregnant woman hospitalized.
I talked to Gustafsson about how he plans to win on Saturday night, the key to recovering from a tough loss, and whether he'll be Sweden's next big action star. (Spoiler alert: It's highly unlikely.)
How are you going to beat light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier on October 3rd?
I have a very good game plan. I’m ready for five whole rounds or a first round knockout, but I will win the fight.
How detailed do you get when you're envisioning a victory? Do you see yourself winning by striking or by submission?
It’s a little bit hard. You have thousands of different scenarios. But you know when you're in there, you get a feeling for you opponent, and that’s when you know.
If you get past Cormier, is the Jones rematch next? Many UFC fans thought you gave him the toughest fight of his career.
That would be absolutely be an option for me. But I’m just taking it one fight at a time. I have my hands full with DC right now. I’m thinking of nothing else.
It's a shame you had to pull out of the Jones rematch because of an injury last year. Does that haunt you at all, or is it just something you file under "shit happens"?
I have thought about it it, but not anymore. Everything is a learning experience. You just keep learning from your mistakes. I actually don’t think about it that much right now.
Your surprise knockout loss in front of a hometown crowd in Stockholm to Anthony Johnson must have been devastating. How did you mentally prepare to return to the Octagon?
It was a really hard time in my career, and in my life, absolutely. I had a lot of support from those close to me. At the end of the day , you have two alternatives: you can keep going and learn from what you did wrong, or you quit. I just took everything in, learned from my mistakes, and here I am today. Everything came out good.
You made headlines recently when you criticized the UFC sponsorship deal with Rebook, and said fighters are underpaid.
For myself, I don’t have any complaints: I do what I love every day, thanks to the UFC. But from my own experience, it’s hard for the new guys to get sponsors. I can just imagine how tough it must be to train full time and not have that. But who knows? Maybe the deal turns out good in the long run.
Any advice for those young UFC fighters who aren't making bank yet?
Just keep your head high and keep fighting.
Nick Diaz was recently suspended for five years after failing a third test for marijuana. Many observers, including Ronda Rousey, criticized the Nevada Athletic Commission for being too harsh. Your thoughts?
He’s not allowed to consume that, and of course he should be punished for his actions. But you have cases in which people are taking that really affect you in training and they get lower punishment from what Nick Diaz got. So I think it’s a little bit unfair that he got such heavy consequence. I thought it was little bit too much.
What do you think about Ronda Rousey being the biggest star in MMA?
She’s doing great, very entertaining. She finishes off her opponents. She's great for the sport. We’ve met a few times, but I don’t really know her.
You're already following her into movies, having just played a cop in the Swedish action movie, Johan Falk: Blodsdiamanter. Do you plan on doing more acting?
I probably won't do it again because I’m a very, very hard self critic. Because I do sports, being in movies and TV doesn’t make me comfortable. I wasn’t really happy with my performance. I played police catching the bad guy.
Well, even if you never win an Oscar, at least you have an awesome nickname. How'd you become known as "The Mauler"?
Thank you. A friend of mine who I used to train with back in the day named me that. And it stuck.
I don't suppose it was after you left an opponent horribly covered in blood or anything?
It could be something like that, yeah.
One last question: Would you rather train for a fight to Swedish death metal or ABBA?
I won't say I’m actual fan of either, but probably death metal is better to train to. That's just my opinion.