Anthony Smith earned a statement win on Saturday in what appears to be the final fight of Alexander Gustafsson’s career.
Following a disappointing outing against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in his last bout, Smith was determined to put on a stronger performance while stepping into face Gustafsson in his home country of Sweden.
From the very start of the fight, Smith was the aggressor with Gustafsson playing counter fighter in an attempt to avoid his powerful striking attacks.
Gustafsson was obviously opting for a tactical strategy in the early going as he was constantly circling away from Smith and then peppering him with leg kicks from the outside. As time passed through the first two rounds, Gustafsson began popping Smith more jabs as he used his superior reach against the shorter fighter.
In return, Smith did his best not to get frustrated while attempting to land his power punches but it seemed like he was always just coming up short as Gustafsson showed incredible head movement and footwork to escape.
Still, Smith’s aggression continued to force Gustafsson to fight off his back foot as he did his best to avoid the powerful punches coming from the American. By the end of the second round, Gustafsson finally began pressing forward with fast combinations and forcing Smith to fight him at a distance.
In the third, Gustafsson started landing his strikes with more regularity as Smith was unable to avoid his opponent’s offense as effectively as he did through the first 10 minutes. Gustafsson was taking aim at Smith’s midsection trying to zap his conditioning by working him to the body.
Just before the end of the round, Gustafsson uncorked a beautiful kick to the ribs that bent Smith in half before the Swede pushed forward to take him to the ground. Smith did a good job defending on the mat to stop Gustafsson from landing any ground and pound before hopping up once the horn sounded as he got ready to reset.
Obviously, Gustafsson felt like the momentum was shifting in his favor as he decided to start pushing forward but as he engaged in a takedown attempt, Smith was able to reverse him before they crashed down to the ground.
Smith immediately moved to take Gustafsson’s back as he locked in his hooks and began pounding away with a barrage of shots from the top. The hammers were falling in rapid fire succession, which forced Gustafsson to defend the punches and that left his neck open for the submission.
Smith, who holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, immediately seized on the opportunity by slipping his forearm under the chin and locking up the rear naked choke. With nowhere to go, Gustafsson was forced to tap out with the end coming at 2:38 into the fourth round.
After the fight ended, Smith revealed that he suffered a broken hand during one of the first exchanges in the opening round and that obviously affected his ability to stalk Gustafsson around the Octagon with his best strikes.
“I just had to figure it out. I tried to hard a couple hard body shots after that and I could feel it swelling up in my glove,” Smith said about the injury.
— UFC (@ufc) June 1, 2019
Smith found a way to fight through the pain and still managed to pull off the fourth round submission against one of the best light heavyweight contenders to ever compete in the UFC. The victory will now put Smith at the top of the contender’s list once again as he stakes his claim to the top of the division with hopes of one day challenging Jones again.
Following the end of the fight, Gustafsson was obviously despondent about the loss in front of his home audience while still paying tribute to Smith for his performance.
“It happened again. I lost in my home,” Gustafsson said. “It’s a sport. It’s hard, you do it because you love it. It is what it is. He’s tough as nails. A great guy. Every time I see him, he’s always been great. A true warrior and a great guy to have in this division.”
As he was talking, Gustafsson was removing his gloves and just before leaving the Octagon he laid them down in the cage and said his final goodbyes to the hometown crowd.
“The show is over guys,” Gustafsson said in closing.
"The show is over, guys."
— UFC (@ufc) June 1, 2019
If this truly is the end of Gustafsson’s career, he will go down as one of the most ferocious contenders the light heavyweight division has ever produced with a string of victories against the best of the best in the 205-pound weight class.
Aleksander Rakic earns highlight reel knockout
A new contender has emerged in the light heavyweight division after Aleksander Rakic earned one of the most devastating head kick knockouts in UFC history in his co-main event fight against Jimi Manuwa.
As much as Manuwa is known for his powerful strikes, it was Rakic who was quick to attack in the opening round as he looked to set up his combinations to go for the finish.
Rakic decided to push forward with a pair of rapid fire punches that forced Manuwa to back up and that’s when the 27-year old Serbian fighter unleashed a perfectly timed left head kick that landed with a sickening thud.
As soon as the kick connected, Manuwa was rendered unconscious as he crashed to the canvas and Rakic held up throwing any more shots as the referee rushed into stop the contest.
The end came at just 42 seconds into the first round.
OH MY, @RAKIC_UFC!
— UFC (@ufc) June 1, 2019
With the knockout, Rakic moves to 12-1 in his career with four straight wins in the UFC as he instantly becomes a contender worth watching in the top 10 rankings at 205 pounds. As for Manuwa, he was able to make it back to his feet after remaining on the canvas for several moments after suffering the knockout loss.
The first round finish also serves as Manuwa’s fourth consecutive loss in a row and third knockout out of those four fights.
Makwan Amirkhani wraps up second round submission finish
Makwan Amirkhani returned from a year long layoff and put on an impressive performance against Chris Fishgold after the two fighters had quite a heated rivalry in the week leading up to the fight.
Amirkhani showcased a strong ground game throughout the contest as he repeatedly took Fishgold to the mat and then punished him with suffocating top control.
While Fishgold did his best to threaten with submissions, Amirkhani continuously made his escape and then deep into the second round he decided to go for a choke of his own. Amirkhani made a quick transition to latch onto an anaconda choke and Fishgold immediately tried to swivel away to prevent ‘Mr. Finland’ from locking up the submission.
Unfortunately Fishgold couldn’t get away and the choke just kept getting tighter and tighter until he had no choice but to tap out. Amirkhani leapt to his feet to celebrate as he earned his second win in a row and his first finish in the UFC since a submission victory over Masio Fullen in 2015.