Rated Next: Sweden’s Gustafsson Shows Promise

Prospect watch continues with promising light heavyweight

Up to this point, you could argue that everyone selected for the Rated Next series was an obvious choice; the consensus top young gun in each division.

If I were to stick to the same pattern, you’d be getting 500-plus words on Phil Davis right about now, but you’re not. Don’t get me wrong – I love “Mr. Wonderful” as much as everybody else, but Davis isn’t a prospect any more; he’s a contender. Plus he’s got a friend with a promising future as well.

Rated Next: Alexander Gustafsson (11-1)

You can’t teach the kind of power the 24-year-old Swede has in his hands; you either have it or you don’t, and “The Mauler” most definitely has it. Ask Jared Hamman.

What makes him the most attractive prospect in the light heavyweight division to me is the development he’s shown in other areas. While he certainly could have maintained a one-dimensional love affair with his knockout power, Gustafsson has worked hard to improve his wrestling and add a solid submission game to his repertoire.

The thing that I like the most about Gustafsson is that he turned to Davis and the team at Alliance MMA to help him develop his ground game even further. It’s not every day that you see a fighter reach out to the guy who just beat him for assistance, but that’s just what Gustafsson did. He knew that his ground game was a weakness, sought out the All-American wrestler and got to work. The results speak for themselves.

His back-to-back submission wins over Cyrille Diabate and James Te-Huna illustrate the emerging diversity in Gustafsson’s skill set. While neither are elite light heavyweights or even particularly comfortable on the ground, he’s finishing guys, and that’s the key. He’s comfortable enough to maintain his composure on the ground and look to finish there, rather than standing back up and relying on his hands. The more comfortable he feels on the ground, the more dangerous his hands become – and vice versa – and being able to keep opponents off balance and be successful no matter where the fight goes are two keys to piling up the victories.

Gustafsson gets a chance to add another win to his resume this weekend in a bout that could tell us a lot more about his potential in the division.

The Swedish prospect takes on Matt Hamill at UFC 133. Originally scheduled to face Vladimir Matyushenko, Gustafsson instead gets an even more stern test in the UFC 130 headliner. In a way, it’s a better fight for Gustafsson.

Fair or not, Matyushenko doesn’t get the credit he deserves or draw the same kind of attention as Hamill. With his history on The Ultimate Fighter and fresh off a marquee meeting with Quinton Jackson two months ago, people have a greater appreciation for what Hamill can do in the cage and where he stands in the rankings. A win over Hamill, a respected and talented veteran who sits at the gates of the top 15, moves the Swede to the next level.

This is Gustafsson’s chance to break through into deep end of the light heavyweight division. Don’t be surprised if you see him swimming with the shark in the near future.