You can't blame Alexander Gustafsson for believing the next shot at Jon Jones' UFC light heavyweight title should be his for the re-taking.
After all, the 6-foot-5 Swede was slated to meet Jones on Sept. 27 in Las Vegas in a rematch of their epic fight a year ago.
But Gustafsson suffered a knee injury early in training camp, which caused him to pull out of the fight, and set in motion the circus-like chain of events which ended up making Jones vs. Daniel Cormier one of the most anticipated fights in years.
So when Jones himself had to pull out of the date because of a meniscus injury, causing the bout to be pushed back to Jan. 3, Gustafsson felt the title shot which had been his should be restored.
"I just heard the news that Jones is injured and the fight is rescheduled to January 3," Gustafsson wrote on his Facebook page. "Until then, I will be more than ready, it was my fight to begin with and I want the fight as the number 1 contender. End of story!"
Well, not so fast. The general rule in combat sports (and there certainly have been exceptions) goes something like this: If the challenger in a title fight is injured, you keep the date and find a new challenger (such as when Jones stepped in for the injured Rashad Evans in 2011 and defeated Mauricio Rua to win the title). If the champion gets hurt, the person who was slated to get the title shot at the time keeps the title shot when the champ can return (featherweight champion Jose Aldo had to pull out of an Aug. 2 fight with Chad Mendes because of a training injury, and it was rescheduled for October).
As such, UFC president Dana White put the kibosh on the idea Gustafsson might reclaim the title shot from Cormier. White, who had been taking a rare vacation and was in Bora Bora when the brawl between Jones and Cormier at the MGM Grand hotel lobby went down two weeks ago, addressed the matter on UFC.com.
"Gustafsson is upset, but it's not like we took Gustafsson out of the fight. Gustafsson got hurt and he's out," White told the company's website. "Cormier stepped in and accepted the fight and this is the fight that is going to happen now.
"The reality is we had Gustafsson versus Jones, he was the No. 1 contender, that was the fight. He got hurt," White continued. "He fell out of the fight. Well, people can say, 'Now Jones is hurt.' Well yeah, but this is the fight that's happening now."
White also weighed in on the matter of the hotel brawl. With years of experience getting between amped-up fighters who are squared off for press photos, White has a sense when something might go down and will get in between the fighters. With White out of the picture at the ill-fated UFC 178 news conference, things got out of hand.
"As soon as Jones went up and their bodies touched, I would have separated them," White told UFC.com. "Sometimes you'll see me put a hand in, or sometimes you'll see me do something else. I would have separated them. It was the head butt, Jones head-butted Cormier – that's what upset [Daniel] and made him push him back. I would have got my arm in there before that contact was even made. I would have seen the contact coming and I would have stopped it."
But he didn't. And while some said this would look bad for the sport, there has never been a fight whose business has been hurt by the fact the participants really, really want to fight one another.
Divisional hierarchies are a fluid thing, and what held last year isn't the same as is today, which in turn won't be the same a year from now. There was great clamor for a Jones-Gustafsson rematch last year after Jones defeated Gustafsson via unanimous decision in one of the greatest fights in mixed martial arts history. But at the time, it appeared no one else would be able to give Jones a challenge at 205, and there was open chatter about whether Jones would have to go up to heavyweight to get a real challenge.
A year later? The division boasts Cormier, who is 15-0 and defeated a pair of former UFC heavyweight champions back-to-back before dropping down to light heavyweight. It also features the sport's most resurgent fighter in 2014 in Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, who has looked spectacular now that he's accepted he's a light heavyweight and not a welterweight. And Gustafsson, let's remind everyone, actually lost that bout to Jones last year.
Still, Team Gustafsson holds fast to their belief they should be next in line. Informed about White's comments, Gustafsson's trainer at Stockholm's Allstars Gym, Andreas Michael, told sherdog.com their opinion hasn't changed.
"We are not happy,' Michael told Sherdog. "Alex is the No. 1 contender, he got injured and the UFC went to Plan B. Now if that fight is not happening, of course Alex and Jones should be right back. That is the fight we want and the fans want. Everyone wants that fight because the previous fight was one of the best ever. Alex deserves the fight."
Michael has a point. But plenty of people want to see Jones and Cormier, too. While Gustafsson and his camp continue to protest, and while few blame him for doing so, chances are things aren't going to change.
An educated guess at what goes down: Jones and Cormier meet on Jan. 3. Gustafsson fights in the evening's co-main event, preferably against Johnson, with the proviso that should Jones or Cormier fall out and force a second postponement (which, in the case of Jones, would call for an interim title this time around), Gustafsson steps into the main event. Win-win? Not exactly. But that way, all the bases are covered on a highly anticipated evening.
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @davedoylemma
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