It’s an extremely important fight for both. Gustafsson has history with both Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones and remains on the cusp of title contention despite a 2-3 record in his past five appearances.
Teixeira is nearly three years removed from a lopsided title fight loss to Jones in 2014. He has won four of his past five, but a loss to Gustafsson would be a major setback to his title aspirations.
ESPN.com is here to break down this 205-pound main event, as well as offer predictions for the main and co-main event.
Alexander Gustafsson (17-4) vs. Glover Teixeira (26-5), light heavyweight
Odds: Gustafsson -330; Teixeira +270
Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira were always going to fight at some point.
You knew it. I knew it. They definitely knew it. The UFC’s light heavyweight division is — how do you say — not very deep. And these two have been floating around the top for years. It’s surprising this matchup took as long as it did to come together.
There is a difference between them in terms of their respective places in the division. Both have piled up victories against the second-tier, but only Gustafsson has really given the elite (Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier) a run for their money. Teixeira, meanwhile, has drowned several times in the deep end. His losses to Jones, Phil Davis and Anthony Johnson were not close.
One reason for that might be that Teixeira is a man who knows what he likes. And by extension, we all know what he likes. You can’t call him one-dimensional — he has a healthy seven wins by submission to go with 15 knockouts. As an offensive wrestler, he’s underrated. But he does tend to go about things in a somewhat predictable way. It’s all about the right hand and the high crotch single leg takedown. Anything else works as a complement to those.
Thus far in his UFC career, elite competition has taken those tools away from Teixeira — big time. Per Fightmetric, Teixeira landed a whopping 53 total strikes through five rounds with Jones in 2014. In a three-round decision loss to Davis, he managed a grand total of nine. He’s that player in Madden that dials up the same play on every down and lives with the results. At age 37, that doesn’t seem likely to change.
Gustafsson, 30, seems like a tough foe for Teixeira. For one thing, he has a pretty ridiculous chin. Teixeira does prey on the one-punch knockout, but that should be tough against iron-chinned Gus. He’s active, long — and can pop a jab in your face to stop progression. He’s an awkward light heavyweight. There are few bodies at this weight that can move as well as Gustafsson and keep it up for five rounds. He’s also made tremendous improvements to his wrestling. This guy took Cormier down multiple times.
That said, Gustafsson did not turn in a sterling performance in his last fight — a decision win over Jan Blachowicz — in which Gustafsson took a good deal of damage. If there is one problem to hone in on with Gustafsson lately, it’s his striking defense. He keeps his hands low and wide. Perhaps that’s because he enjoys such a reach and height advantage, but the issue is he doesn’t always utilize it — and he’s dealt with a chronic back injury in recent years. His UFC career strike defense is a very mediocre 50 percent.
Maybe there’s a hometown advantage here for Gustafsson in that he doesn’t have to deal with international travel around a fight. The real advantage though, is the scheduled five rounds. Gustafsson’s gas tank is the superior of the two.
Prediction: Gustafsson in a back-and-forth decision.
After a touch-and-go contract negotiation with the UFC, one of the most promising light heavyweights is back in action in Cirkunov. Oezdemir isn’t a pushover, but on paper, he’s overmatched here.
Prediction: Cirkunov via decision.