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ANALYSIS:

Gustafsson has something to prove, is facing a worthy opponent at UFC London

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Alexander Gustafsson stands on the scale during the weigh-in for Saturday’s UFC 165 in Toronto, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.

Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165

Sweden's Alexander Gustafsson (left) lands a blow on American Jon Jones during their World Light Heavyweight Championship bout during UFC 165 in Toronto on Saturday Sept. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young) Launch slideshow »

UFC Fight Night 38 complete card

  • Light heavyweight bout: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jimi Manuwa
  • Lightweight bout: Melvin Guillard vs. Michael Johnson
  • Flyweight bout: Brad Pickett vs. Neil Seery
  • Welterweight bout: Gunnar Nelson vs. Omari Akhmedov
  • Light heavyweight bout: Cyrille Diabate vs. Ilir Latifi
  • Middleweight bout: Luke Barnatt vs. Mats Nilsson
  • Middleweight bout: Brad Scott vs. Cláudio Henrique da Silva
  • Bantamweight bout: Davey Grant vs. Roland Delorme
  • Welterweight bout: Igor Araújo vs. Danny Mitchell
  • Flyweight bout: Louis Gaudinot vs. Phil Harris
  • How to watch: Card streamed on UFC Fight Pass at UFC.tv beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday morning.

Alexander Gustafsson doesn’t sound like a fighter who believes he has a lot to prove in his bout Saturday against Jimi Manuwa in London at UFC Fight Night 38.

The response to the brutish Swede during the past six months since he pushed light heavyweight champion Jon Jones to the limit at UFC 165 makes it unrealistic to expect him to feel that way. Fans have treated Gustafsson like an uncrowned champion, or at the least an uncontested top contender, since he dropped the unanimous decision but sent the world’s best fighter to the hospital and a prolonged recovery in the process.

“I’d have to say it was my best performance,” Gustafsson said earlier this week. “Even though I lost, I think I won the fight. A lot of people think I won the fight.”

“The Mauler” is dead right on the first part, almost as much as he is wrong on the second. The legend of Jones vs. Gustafsson has taken on a life of its own and gotten blown out of proportion since September.

Not in terms of its standing in the greatest fights in UFC history collection, of which Jones vs. Gustafsson deserves prime placement, but in terms of controversy, of which there was less than energy preserved between the two fighters that night. None.

More than 90 percent of the media scores, as documented by MMADecisions.com, sided with Jones. That doesn’t include the Sun, which went 48-47 for the champion but thought the bout was closer to 49-46 Jones than 48-47 Gustafsson.

Any unbiased observer saw Jones come back from the damage Gustafsson dished early to take control. For that matter, even biased parties witnessed it.

“I was screaming instructions for Alex, screaming for him to beat him,” Manuwa reflected on Jones vs. Gustafsson. “I yelled, ‘Oh no, Alex' and all that in the later rounds. I didn’t think he won. I thought it was even going into the fifth round, and Jon Jones nicked him in the fifth round.”

Manuwa (14-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) rooted for Gustafsson (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) because he considered him a teammate. The London-based Manuwa had spent time at Gustafsson’s home Alliance MMA Gym in San Diego while preparing for a recent fight.

Perhaps knowing the UFC could someday pair them against each other, Manuwa and Gustafsson didn’t train together. The matchup wasn’t so far-fetched back then.

But Gustafsson had the performance of a lifetime — in a loss, keep in mind — and the popular perception became that he was out of Manuwa’s league.

“I don’t blame them because they probably haven’t seen all my fights,” Manuwa said of fans counting him out. “I’m going to go out there and show off a bit.”

Go ahead and chuckle. Greet Manuwa’s confidence with the same cynicism Gustafsson endured before he faced Jones.

Just remember how that turned out. Gustafsson was nearly twice as big of a betting underdog against Jones than Manuwa is against Gustafsson.

Crazy, unforeseen scenarios can play out when pitting the best fighters in the world against each other, especially when one of them has spent months getting chided as inferior.

“It’s the worst thing you can do to a fighter,” Gustafsson said. “To me personally, it just motivated me even more (against Jones).”

Neither the UFC nor Jones was obligated to grant Gustafsson an immediate rematch. It would have been nice to see the sudden sensation clash with someone like Daniel Cormier so the UFC could have proved it’s not attempting to coddle its challengers like newborn kittens.

But Manuwa, a lion in his own right with finishes in all of his fights, wasn’t a bad option B. It’s not as if Gustafsson had wrecked the entire 205-pound division before giving Jones all he could handle.

The victories that propelled him to his title shot, in fact, were rather pedestrian unanimous decisions over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Thiago Silva. He had never shown he was capable of the type of violence he unleashed against Jones.

There’s no pain in asking Gustafsson to display it again before he’s rushed back into a title fight. Let’s find out whether Gustafsson is the same fighter when he’s the one burdened with expectations.

“I was disappointed not getting the rematch, but it is what it is,” Gustafsson said. “I heard I had to fight again, so I just had to let the past go and look towards the next challenge. I’m coming for the belt.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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