For Alexander Gustafsson, rolling with the punches is part of the job description - in and out of the cage. Gustafsson is fighting on the tumultuous UFC 133 card next weekend and it's been a bumpy and uncertain road. The 24 year old Swedish star has seen his opponent change once, from veteran Vladimir Matyushenko to Matt Hamill, and almost found himself in the co-main event of the evening against Rich Franklin.The mellow boxer is taking it all in stride.
"It's cool. I stay focused and train hard," Gustafsson told MMA Nation in an exclusive interview. Nothing seems to get the young fighter too riled up - even the recent revelation that Franklin had turned down the potential fight, citing Gustafsson's lack of name recognition with the UFC fans. "I understand why it's a lose-lose fight for Rich."
Hamill stepping in for an injured Matyushenko could be a blessing or a curse. The "Hammer" is a well known and well respected fighter; a win in their SPIKE TV preliminary bout could do wonders for Gustafsson's career. But it's also a big step up in competition for a fighter who two years ago was still competing on the local scene in his native Sweden. Coach Eric Del Fiero from Alliance MMA believes Gustafsson has come a long way since joining the gym - and this is his chance to prove it.
"We will find out Aug 6th," the coach said. "He is fighting a very seasoned veteran with a very solid record. So its a big step for Alexander."
Gustafsson has been training at Alliance since a loss to Phil Davis at UFC 112. Davis was able to control the fight on the ground, eventually finishing the Swede off with an Anaconda choke. Wrestling defense has been the bane of many European fighters. But rather than complain about his opponent's style and hope and dream for a UFC without top control wrestlers, Gustafsson decided to confront his weaknesses head on. He asked his coach, Andreas Michael, to set up a meeting with Davis's Alliance team near San Diego, California, and he's been there learning ever since.
"Coach Eric is a master in coaching and he is helping me with my gameplan and puts everything together," Gustafsson said. "I have to get better in everything - it's a on going progress."
Del Fiero agrees. "He has grown in all aspects of his game, if you look at his two last fights his confidence was through the roof and went in there and dominated. So yes, we're very happy in his over all MMA game improvements."
UFC 133 could be a turning point for Gustafsson. He's been working non stop on combating the light heavyweight division's bevy of big wrestlers for more than a year, working with Davis, Brandon Vera, and others to prepare for fighters looking to shoot in. Hamill will be the perfect proving ground for determining Gustafsson's potential and Del Fiero believes his fighter has an x-factor that could be a difference maker - killer instinct. Gustafsson has finished 10 of the 11 opponents he's beaten and Del Fiero doesn't believe that's coincidence.
"That can not be taught, he said. "It makes our job as coaches easy when we have someone with those attributes."