UFC contender Alexander Gustafsson staring at a no-win situation

Kevin Iole

Alexander Gustafsson isn't a trash talker. He doesn't crack jokes when he speaks publicly. He's not known for being glib.

But when the UFC light heavyweight speaks of his fight on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London with Jimi Manuwa, he seems about ready to doze off.

Gustafsson lost one of the best fights of 2013, and one of the best matches in UFC history, when he was narrowly defeated by Jon Jones in their light heavyweight title bout in the main event of UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

It was a stirring, back-and-forth bout in which Gustafsson, even in defeat, earned raves for his performance.

As a reward for that great performance, Gustafsson gets a no-win bout against the largely unknown Manuwa, who is a power puncher with a 14-0 record.

Manuwa has everything to gain, and Gustafsson everything to lose from the bout. Manuwa has one of the lowest profiles of any fighter in the main event of a UFC card during the Zuffa era, which dates to January 2001.

Gustafsson is the uncrowned champion in the eyes of many, and there was clamoring for a rematch among fans and media. But Jones preferred not to have an immediate rematch and elected to take on Glover Teixeira first, so Gustafsson was left to face Manuwa.

Not only isn't it a title fight, and not only is it against someone a large majority of fans know little about, but it's a potentially risky bout with little upside for Gustafsson.

There is little, though, that Gustafsson can do. He doesn't sound particularly excited – as he answers questions about the Manuwa fight in a dreary monotone, he sounds as if he's about to fall asleep – but he can't afford to take Manuwa for granted.

"It doesn't matter whether I'm fighting someone people consider the pound-for-pound best in the world or whether it is a guy no one knows, a fight is a fight and I am motivated whenever I fight," he said. "Whoever and whenever I fight, I'm excited and I'll be ready."

Jones was carried from the ring on a stretcher after facing Gustafsson in September and wasn't fully healed physically for months.

Jones is scheduled to return to the cage and defend his belt against Teixeira in the main event of UFC 172 in Baltimore on April 26.

But Gustafsson said it didn't take him long to recover, either from the extreme disappointment of losing a bout he felt he'd won or from the bumps and bruises he suffered at Jones' hands.

He was back in the gym, he said, training to improve his overall game just two weeks later.

"It wasn't really that tough and I didn't feel too bad," he said. "Mentally, it was tougher to take a defeat. I hate to lose but it created more of a motivation thing for me. A lot of people have given me credit for that fight and for the way I fought, but at the end of the day, it wasn't good enough to win and so I have to be better.

"It was my first five-round fight, and now I know what to expect. I have much more experience now and I know what it is like to be in there with a guy like Jones. And I think I'm a much better athlete today than the one who fought Jon Jones."

Manuwa isn't Jones – who is? – but he's a hard puncher who in his 14 fights has never gotten into the third round.

Now, he hasn't been as impressive in the UFC and he has actually never stopped any of his opponents during the action. The doctor stopped his fight with Kyle Kingsbury in his UFC debut on Sept. 29, 2012, at the end of the second round.

Both Cyrille Diabate and Ryan Jimmo were injured during their fights with Manuwa and couldn't finish.

But Manuwa has heavy hands and, as he said to Yahoo Sports, "It's not my fault they got hurt and couldn't finish."

But to a fighter like Gustafsson, Manuwa isn't the kind of threat that Jones, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Thiago Silva were. They're Gustafsson's most recent opponents.

It would be easy for Gustafsson to look past Manuwa, particularly given how badly he wanted a rematch with Jones, but Gustafsson said that's not his style.

"I've fought long enough now to understand that there is no such thing as an easy fight," he said. "At this level, all of them are hard. The way you get through them is to take each fight as importantly as the previous one. I'm only focused on Manuwa, not Jones and not a title shot or anyone else.

"My goal is to get that belt and to win it, these are the fights I have to win. So I've prepared to go out and do just that."