Two of the top-ranked light heavyweight contenders in the world are set to square off in the spring, and below are my initial thoughts on this pivotal matchup at 205lbs.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Smith, UFC Fight Night 152
With both men coming off of losses to Jon Jones in their last respective outings, the UFC matchmakers have gone ahead and matched up Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith for the main event of UFC Fight Night 152. The card takes place June 1 at 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 fight that makes sense with both men needing to rebound after their losses to Jones. Gustafsson suffered a TKO defeat to Jones in the main event of UFC 232, while Smith lost a lopsided decision to Jones at UFC 235. With the UFC needing a main event for its return to Sweden, it naturally made sense for Gustafsson to headline the card, and for Smith it’s an opportunity to get another main event fight after years of being a journeyman in the sport.
At the same time, however, it’s 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 at UFC 235. Smith didn’t mount much offense in that fight and bore the brunt of 25 minutes of Jones’ attacks, and afterwards said he wanted to take some time away to rest and relax after a busy schedule in 2018 and 2019. Clearly, though, the allure of getting another main event slot against a top contender like Gustafsson was too much for Smith to pass on.
Gustafsson (18-5) is 10-5 overall in the UFC and prior to the loss to Jones had won back-to-back fights over Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowicz. Always a bridesmaid, Gustafsson has been one of the top contenders at 205lbs for much of the 2010s but has never been able to win 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 at Jones. He showed against Jones that he’s just not on the champ’s level, but he still remains a very solid contender at 205lbs.
As for the opening betting line for this fight, I believe the oddsmakers will set Gustafsson as the favorite here, though I doubt he opens over 2-to-1. Smith has shown since moving up to light heavyweight that he has more knockout power and durability at his new weight class, and I wouldn’t totally count him out of this fight. Still, Gustafsson is the more skilled fighter and will of course be fighting in his hometown which should give him a boost. Regardless of who wins, this should be a very exciting matchup between two of the top dogs in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.