Just over a year ago Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson announced his retirement and left his gloves in the octagon after losing against Anthony “Lion Heart” Smith at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm with the words, “the show is over guys”. But now “The Mauler” makes the comeback official with his first public statement regarding a future UFC bout.
“I’ve missed it, I miss competing and I don’t feel like I’m just quite done with it yet. Despite of what I felt before. So I never lost the itch. And now in a new division and against new opponents, I have very exciting times ahead of me.
I made the decision [to come back] in the past few weeks. I’ve stayed active, despite the strange times we’re in.”
Gustafsson is looking to enter the UFC’s heavyweight division after sixteen bouts in the light heavyweight division including two very even fights for the title against Jon “Bones” Jones and Daniel “DC” Cormier, the latter who now resides at the top of the heavyweight division.
“I’ve always seen myself as a big light heavyweight fighter, I have a big frame and walk around quite heavy. So I’ve always had to cut around 33lbs to make weight. And since the fight got finalized just now, with 6-7 weeks to go I wouldn’t have been able to make LHW anyway. But regardless I would’ve made to move to HW to try it out, it’s a new challenge to put it simply. For me to be able to down a chicken pasta in fight week hasn’t happened in 15 years.
My walk around weight is at about 236-238lbs and at the time of the fight I think I’ll be around 231-233lbs. Even though I’m moving up a weight class I don’t want to add any unnecessary mass. I want to stay at the weight I perform the best at in training and that is around 227-231lbs. It’s right at the sweet spot, I feel strong there while also retaining speed and keeping myself injury free. In the past when I’d made my 33lbs weight cut there would always be some small injury, my back, my knee or something else. It takes a toll on you to make that cut during all these years.
This is a whole new division with its own set of challenges and a whole different beast I’ll be facing at that weight. “
Stepping in to take on The Mauler will be former UFC World Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum. The Brazilian has had a long career with bouts in PRIDE and Strikeforce and holds notable wins over Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and Cain Velasquez among others. He is also a former world champion in BJJ and ADCC.
“He’s experienced and a bit of a legend in the sport when you look at his career. He’s gained some weight in recent years but he’s not to be underestimated, he’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeves and is a legit black belt. And he, like everyone else in the HW division hits hard. So it will be an awesome challenge for me and it’s very motivating for me to fight him.
I will go in there with full force, fully prepared to win. This is not a game and I will go in there to maul his face, get my W and take it from there.”
The comeback is set to take place on July 25th at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, also known as Fight Island. The event will be closed for the public with no crowd like all other UFC events since mid March, but this is not something that will distract the Swede.
“I have a hunch of how it will feel [to fight in front of empty stands]. When I fought James Te Hunta in Sydney in 2011 it was an early card before noon and I was on the prelims so the arena was pretty much empty. So it’s a different, and weird atmosphere. But in a way it will also be less pressure and for me it doesn’t matter, I’m there to fight and do my job and get paid.”
As for making a run for the title or going back down to light heavyweight Gus doesn’t want to look past Werdum at the moment.
“At the moment the only thing I have on my mind is to win one fight at a time and see where
that takes me. I want to get a streak going with some wins under my belt and then take it from there. If it feels good there won’t really be any reason for me to move back down to light heavyweight.”
Photos and text by Daniel Schälander.