UFC 141 Preview: Vladimir Matyushenko vs Alexander Gustafsson

During the ascent of Jon Jones and Phil Davis into main event and light heavyweight top tier this year, someone a bit off the radar has been joining them. A prospect from Sweden, Alexander Gustafsson has flown under the radar for some time with a handful of quality victories en route to a 12-1 record overall (4-1 in the UFC) with his loss being to Davis early in 2010. So far Gustafsson has been beating everyone he’s supposed to, including the likes of Jared Hamman and James Te-Huna alongside retiring Matt Hamill in brutal fashion, and his loss against Davis was more of an indicator at how good Davis had become as opposed to his status. Gustafsson has been improving steadily, albeit not as fast as Davis or Jones, and now gets the same test that Jones did at a similar stage in his career: Vladimir Matyushenko.

Matyushenko has fought a who’s who of many known fighters over the years and has now become the light heavyweight division’s best gatekeeper. Beating him isn’t easy but getting past “The Janitor” usually means you have the chops to become a top 10 fighter. And that’s exactly what Gustafsson needs right now: someone to push him to that next level. To get past him he’ll have to get past the definition of a cagey veteran.

Matyushenko was a top rate freestyle wrestler in the old Soviet Union, with wins over notables of the era including Kevin Jackson, and has extensive amateur wrestling credentials. A former Soviet national champion in an era when the Soviets housed a large number of the best freestyle wrestlers in the world, Matyushenko is known for his use of wrestling. And that’ll be what he most likely utilizes against Gustafsson the most: his ability to bring the fight to the mat.

He has a tremendous shot and watch for him to go for an outside single and turn that into a double; Gustafsson has shown trouble against wrestlers of a high level, including Davis, and Matyushenko will most likely go to that option early and often. Gustafsson has solid takedown defense but Matyushenko can get him to the ground. Matyushenko also has considerable power his hands; he’s coming off a quick stoppage of Jason Brilz by strikes and his power can’t be underestimated by the Swede or else it’ll be an early night for him.

That’ll be the key to it. Gustafsson has a better overall striking game than Matyushenko but doesn’t have the experience or veteran knowhow that Matyushenko brings to the table. His key to winning is to push the pace and use his advantage in athletic ability and youth to wear out his opponent, who is in his early 40s. Gustafsson’s ability to scramble and get up off his back is going to be tested; if he can’t get up and Matyushenko holds him down he will lose and lose convincingly.

The longer the fight goes the better his odds get at stopping Matyushenko; his key to winning is going to be imposing his will on the Janitor early and often, not letting him dictate the pace. Matyushenko can be overwhelmed easy by the right fighter; Jon Jones imposed his will and wrecked him in short order and Gustafsson has the potential to do the same thing.

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