USA TODAY US Edition
Gustafsson returns home a rising star
UFC heads to Sweden after six weeks off
Thiago Silva has more years in the Ultimate Fighting Championship than Alexander Gustafsson, but the younger man stands closer to the top of the 205pound division these days.
“I train super hard every day and I stay busy, so I think I am where I should be right now,” says Gustafsson, No. 9 in the USA TODAY/SB Nation consensus rankings at light heavyweight. “I just want to fight better guys all the time.”
The Swedish prospect hopes to notch his fifth consecutive win Saturday when he faces No. 15 Silva at UFC on Fuel 2 (12:30 p.m. ET, online stream; 3 p.m. ET, Fuel TV) in Stockholm. It’s the first live show for UFC and parent company Zuffa after a six-week hiatus.
Gustafsson’s dominance in his previous four outings gave UFC the confidence to put him in the main event of its debut in his home country. The streak started after the only loss of his professional career, an April 2010 submission defeat against fellow up-and-comer Phil Davis.
“I thought I had everything, but the fight opened my eyes,” Gustafsson says. “From that loss, I took training more seriously. . . . You can’t just train because you like it. You have to live (mixed martial arts).”
An impressive win Saturday would be Gustafsson’s most significant victory and strengthen his case for a fight to determine a No. 1 contender. For Silva, a win could spark a career rebirth after more than a year away from competition.
At one point, Silva nearly achieved the heights Gustafsson seeks. He was the consensus No. 8 light heavyweight and maybe a fight away from a title shot before losing to ex-champ Rashad Evans in January 2010.
Silva came back to dominate Brandon Vera throughout a Jan- uary 2011 bout in Las Vegas, but postfight tests revealed Silva used synthetic urine. He later admitted to taking banned substances to aid his recovery from a back injury. Silva served a oneyear suspension, which ended three months ago.
The time away helped Silva heal. “I’m much better now because I’m 100% healthy,” he said. “That’s the important thing.”
Zach Makovsky relishes the chance to finally defend the 135-pound title he won a yearand-a-half ago in Bellator Fighting Championships.
“I’d rather the belt be on the line every time I fight, so I’m glad it is for this one,” said Makovsky, who faces Eduardo Dantas at Bellator 65 today (8 p.m. ET, MTV2) in Atlantic City. “Dantas has clearly earned his shot.”
Makovsky became the first bantamweight champion of Bellator when he won the organiza- tion’s inaugural 135-pound tournament in October 2010. But he took on two non-title fights last year while waiting for the next tourney to produce a No. 1 contender.
Dantas won Bellator’s Season 5 bantamweight tourney in November to secure his championship opportunity.
His six-fight winning streak includes tournament wins against formidable names in former Elitexc champion Wilson Reis, previous finalist Ed West and Olympic wrestling medalist Alexis Vila.
“I have better wrestling than Wilson and better jiujitsu than Vila,” Makovsky says.
“I think I’m a little bit better at putting everything together than those two guys.
“Hopefully me constantly mixing everything together is what’s going to win this fight.“