Alexander Gustafsson will be making his return to the Octagon and he will be hoping for a change in fortune. The two-time light heavyweight title contender will face Anthony Smith in the UFC main event on Saturday.
The two light heavyweight fighters will be contesting to get the upper hand on their feet. Gustafsson is hoping to come out of the fight without severe bumps and bruises as he hopes to compete in at least two fights this year which would be the first time he does so since 2015. He is the statistical favourite between the pair but that’s not to say that it’s a guaranteed win because Smith is no pushover.
Rather surprising to most has been Smith’s late rise to prominence, and the most startling reason to be surprised about is his striking numbers. Although he has improved his jab recently. Smith has the worst numbers among light heavyweights with a score of -1.22. Any fighter that has a negative striking differential means that they are being struck a lot more than they are landing any punches. He lands 3.09 strikes per minute and takes 4.31 strikes per minute.
Gustafsson has the upper hand as he makes 4.01 strikes per minute and only takes 3.51 strikes thus leaving him in a positive of 0.5 differential. This means that his striking variance is a lot more impressive and effective than that of Smith. When the fight does begin this might not matter as Smith still seems to be getting results even if statistically he is not up to standard. Gustafsson is quite tall and what he uses to his advantage is his long reach and footwork. His long jabs and hooks could prove devastating with defence not being one of Smith’s strong points.
One of the key factors behind Smith’s success has been his ability to finish fights and knockdowns of his opponents. But this could also be his downfall because he is often too reliant on trying to finish a fight early. Since 2016 when his not knocked down his opponent his record is 4-6. Smith has only managed to get 0.58 knockdowns per 15 minutes which is not great if we’re comparing it to the Swede Gustafsson’s knockdowns per 15 minutes which is 0.82.
If Smith is going to be reliant on his power shots against Gustafsson he could find himself losing the fight because the Swede has only been knocked down once in his career and that was against Anthony Johnson in 2015. Gustafsson has a deadly counter with a variety of kicks that could knock Smith to the canvas. Its hard to predict what Gustafsson will do because its likely that he will stick to his traditional boxing style.
Gustafsson is earned has a reputation for being an incredibly efficient striker but when a fight requires him to take his opponent to the ground he does so to ensure that he lowers the risk of losing. He could easily look to take Smith down because he has averaged 1.63 takedowns per 15 minutes. Furthermore, Smith has only managed to stop 50 percent of takedowns on him. He a lot of room for his opponents to take him down, he is taken down on average 2.21 times per 15 minutes. This could prove to be the best path for Gustafsson to take if he wants to beat Smith.
Gustafsson seems to have the advantage in most of the statistical categories but will that matter come Saturday night? Both fighters will have equal opportunity to win and they both possess the skill to get the victory.