Five years ago, Alexander Gustafsson fell just short of accomplishing the unthinkable. Following six straight wins and a subsequent rise in the rankings, Gustafsson was booked to face the unstoppable Jon Jones as a sizable underdog in the eyes of the MMA public at UFC 165 in Sept. 2013. But the five-round war that ensued significantly altered the reputations of both light heavyweights, creating the most demanded rematch in UFC history.
Finally, 1,924 days after their first meeting–a bout Jones won by a somewhat controversial unanimous decision, these two Octagon warriors will meet for a second time in the main event of Saturday’s recently-relocated UFC 232 with the light heavyweight
title on the line. But Jones’ extracurricular activities outside the Octagon, as well as a pair of failed drug tests, have made him the most hated champion in MMA history despite his undeniable ability. And many now believe that it’s up to Gustafsson to end his enemy’s undefeated reign before things get any worse.
Last weekend, the UFC announced that microscopic traces of Turinabol, the substance Jones tested positive and was later suspended for in 2017, showed up in a recent drug test. As a result, the UFC chose to relocate the entire UFC 232 card from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to The Forum in Los Angeles to save the main event because the Nevada State Athletic Commission wanted to further investigate the matter but wasn’t able to do so on such short notice during the holidays.
Due to the fact that neither the UFC nor the United States Anti-Doping Agency believe that the Turinabol detected in Jones’ system was the result of a new offense, the California State Athletic Commission has sanctioned this weekend’s light heavyweight headliner, angering those who believe that Jones’ success is the result of little more than the long-term use of performance-enhancing drugs.
While both UFC president Dana White and vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky have made it abundantly clear that they believe Jones is currently a clean fighter, many fans and members of the MMA media decided Jones was guilty the minute they heard news of the latest incident. However, according to White, the amount of Turinabol found was so small that it would’ve been scientifically impossible for it to have come from anything other than the Turinabol that the former champion tested positive for in 2017.
“Jon Jones, he has had eight drug tests in six months and they’ve been negative,” White told Gustafsson during the third episode of UFC 232 Embedded. “He [Jones] just popped for a metabolite, which, all the experts say you couldn’t possibly take the amount that [was detected in] Jon Jones. It’s impossible to even take the amount that he’s popping for.”
Regardless of the UFC’s belief in Jones’ innocence, the incident has reignited the widespread hatred and disappointment that many have felt towards the light heavyweight legend throughout his highly-publicized struggles. And at this point, the UFC’s decision to accommodate Jones by relocating the fight–a move that’s hurt fans, fighters and even members of the MMA media financially due to the last-minute logistical nightmare of making new arrangements during the holidays, has further fueled that hatred.
In their first meeting, Jones had yet to stray from the path of a wholesome, do-no-wrong UFC champion and was still considered an overwhelming fan-favourite who was simply searching for a real threat to his light heavyweight throne. Promoted as little more than a long, capable striker, Gustafsson was the opponent who finally gave Jones the test he was hoping for, and although unexpected, passing that test proved that Jones could weather an Octagon storm on his way to victory.
Now hated rivals, Jones and Gustafsson once respected each other. As MMA Fighting’s Chuck Mindenhall pointed out in an article on the subject earlier this year, the two men even took a post-fight picture together following their UFC 165 war while at the hospital that proudly displayed the kind of mutual respect that many fighters share. But to say that the situation has changed throughout the years is a massive understatement, and both Jones and Gustafsson now want nothing more than an opportunity to tear each other apart.
Obviously, Gustafsson will have to do something that’s never been done before in order to defeat the sport’s most hated figure. But beyond that, he’ll also have to prove that he can beat the best that the division has to offer–something he failed to do against Jones, Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson.
Cormier may have been the two-division champion and an ideal nemesis for Jones, but that one performance five years ago has made Gustafsson the one who fight fans have always seen as the Kryptonite to the division’s Superman. Their extended Octagon absences don’t matter. Cormier’s status as the light heavyweight champion doesn’t matter. UFC 165 doesn’t matter. All that matters is the fact that we finally have MMA’s most demanded rematch, and Gustafsson finally has another chance to end Jones’ reign.