LOS ANGELES — Everywhere Alexander Gustafsson turns, it seems, someone asks him about Jon Jones.
"That's all anyone wants to talk about," the top light heavyweight contender said. "Everywhere I go, reporters, fans, they all ask me about him."
He doesn't want it to be this way, mind you. The fighter from Sweden, who trains at San Diego's Alliance MMA, has a major challenge on his hands next week. He'll return home to Stockholm to meet dangerous striker Anthony "Rumble" Johnson in front of an expected crowd of 30,000 on Jan. 24.
But all anyone wants to discuss is the UFC light heavyweight champion, the man whom Gustafsson nearly defeated in 2013. The man he'll likely rematch if he defeats Johnson. The man who can't keep himself out of the news.
Gustafsson and Alliance teammate and fellow light heavyweight Phil Davis, who also fights on the Stockholm card, had lunch with reporters Tuesday following a training session at Freddie Roach's famed Wild Card boxing gym in Hollywood, and the topic du jour was the controversial champ.
Jones is coming off a whirlwind period in which he successfully defended his title against Daniel Cormier at UFC 182; checked himself into rehab after testing positive for cocaine in a pre-fight drug test; then checked himself back out a day later.
And the Alliance duo, like the rest of the MMA world, has strong opinions. Gustafsson had to be prodded into giving his, but when he did, he left his position quite clear.
"It is bad for the sport, bad for the organization," Gustafsson said. "We're supposed to be role models. You're supposed to stay above that sort of thing. … If he doesn't suffer consequences, people think it is OK to do coke."
Davis, likewise, is incredulous that Jones hasn't been punished for the transgression.
"They drug tested him and he popped," said Davis, who meets Ryan Bader on the Stockholm card. "Now, I'm just a stupid fighter, but it sounded like, if they drug tested him, they were looking to do something if he popped. So I think you gotta do something. But then again, what do I know? I'm just a stupid fighter."
The reason Jones wasn't suspended amounts to a technicality, as Jones' test, conducted on Dec. 4, was considered out-of-competition. The Nevada Athletic Commission has the authority to only adjudicate matters of performance-enhancing drugs, not street drugs. Per World Anti-Doping Authority guidelines, which NAC follows, the "in-competition" period begins 12 hours before a competition begins.
Davis had a hilarious tongue-in-cheek reply to this rule.
"I'm fighting in two weeks. So I can do cocaine right now? Cool," he said. "You're saying 12 hours, so the morning of my fight, I've still got time to take a little bump and get my engine revved up."
Davis was being absurd to make a point. But as it turns out, the fact Jones wasn't suspended works out to Gustafsson's benefit.
The big Swede's title shot has been unexpectedly rocky. After pushing Jones like he's never been pushed in a bout at UFC 165 which many consider 2013's fight of the year, there was great clamor for a rematch. That bout appeared set after Gustafsson beat Jimi Manuwa last March and Jones defended his title the following month against Glover Teixeira.
Instead, it led to one of those chain reactions that seem to only happen in mixed martial arts. Gustafsson had to pull out of the Jones rematch with an injury. Cormier took Jones' place and the duo engaged in the infamous MGM Grand news conference brawl. When the fight was postponed because of a Jones knee injury, Gustafsson argued unsuccessfully to be reinserted into the bout, but there was too much interest in Jones and Cormier at that point.
Gustafsson was pacified by being promised the next title shot if he defeated Johnson, a title shot which would have been thrown into turmoil had Jones been suspended.
But the would-be champ claims he never let the thought about what might happen with a potential Jones fight — which has been rumored for the traditional Fourth of July weekend show in Las Vegas — enter his thoughts.
"There's no point doing that," Gustafsson said. "You've seen everything that can happen when you get promised a shot. I've got to face a guy with knockout power next week, I can't let myself worry about something that might or might not happen afterwards."
Oh yeah, about the Johnson fight. The fighter known as "Rumble," who left the UFC in disgrace three years ago after missing weight multiple times at both welterweight and middleweight, finally found his groove at 205 pounds. He's won eight straight fights, including three in a row in the UFC, with five knockouts along the way.
Gustfasson rightfully respects the Georgia native's power — the fact he's been making the two-hour drive to Wild Card to work on his boxing backs this up — but he also feels he is a better all-around fighter than his opponent.
"I'm a better fighter than [Johnson], I've got too many tools for him," Gustafsson said. "He's a hell of a force, but he's one-dimensional. Doesn't move a lot. Comes in hard, throws the left kick, left hook, straight right … not afraid of his wrestling at all. I'll cover my face up, not going to let him hit me. I need to bring my A-game and I will."
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @DaveDoyleMMA