The first ever UFC card to take place on Swedish soil saw a main event that featured two fighters seemingly headed in completely opposite directions.
On the one hand was 25-year-old Alexander Gustafsson, who cruised to a decision victory in what, at times, resembled a sparring session for him. In doing so, he drew generous comparisons to champion Jon Jones from UFC commentators.
Then there was 29-year-old Thiago Silva, making his first appearance after serving a one-year suspension for altering his urine sample in January 2011. The greatest compliment Silva received was that he showed heart.
Hey, you got utterly dominated, but at least you're still standing, right?
Both are still young enough to believe the best years lie ahead but after watching Gustafsson completely own Silva for 15 minutes, it’s hard not to think that theory only applies to one of the men here.
Gustafsson (14-1) managed to come off very impressive, despite the fact he was never really tested. The comparisons to Jones might be premature, but the observations on his footwork and elusiveness -- a testament to the work he’s done with trainer Eric Del Fierro -- were spot on.
The 6-foot-4 Gustafsson is not ready for a fight against the untouchable Jones, but at least there’s a foundation here hinting that somewhere down the road, he might be.
The same could not be said about Silva (14-3). The Brazilian’s return to the Octagon could very easily (and accurately) be described as nothing short of a disappointment.
To be fair, it was a difficult set of circumstances for Silva. It was just his third contest dating back to January 2010, making it tough to establish any kind of rhythm in the cage. He also accepted the matchup against Gustafsson on short notice.
Those excuses, though, aren’t enough to justify what amounted to a sloppy performance.
Once viewed as a legitimate threat to the light heavyweight title, Silva was blatantly one-dimensional in his approach Saturday. Against a rangy opponent like Gustafsson, many expected Silva to try and get on the inside, push the action against the fence or test his abilities on the ground.
Silva ended up doing none of these, opting instead to stand at the end of Gustafsson’s punches. Basically, his only offensive attempts came in the form of the same one-two combination over and over again. And for a fighter who’s known for his intimidating demeanor, Silva showed a surprising lack of killer instinct. He visibly hurt Gustafsson with a right hand in the second round but refused to go after him.
His only legitimately aggressive moment came in the fight’s final 10 seconds, long after the outcome had already become clear. He was easily frustrated during the fight and looked as he might have been winded as early as the second round.
“It was bad,” Silva said, immediately after the fight. “I couldn’t feel my legs. I did my job. I tried to push as much as I could. Alexander is a tough guy. I couldn’t find the distance. He deserved the victory.”
Silva is in no way in danger of losing his job in the UFC, but that’s not really the point here. The point is, he just returned from a situation in which he was caught cheating. After serving a one-year suspension, he deserved to come back and I didn’t rip the UFC when that comeback came in the privilege of a main event fight. He paid his dues. If the promotion needs him to headline a card, so be it.
But to see him perform so badly in that kind of opportunity though, was disappointing. While the sky is certainly the limit right now for Gustafsson, we may have already witnessed Silva's peak.