Last December, Jones rematched against Gustafsson in the main event of UFC 232. The pair first met at UFC 165 back in 2013 in one of the greatest fights in MMA history. Jones won a decision that night, but it was close. The rematch was expected to be competitive, too. But it was a vicious beatdown, as Jones took Gustafsson down to the mat and finished him in brutal fashion with ground-and-pound in the third round. It was only the second knockout loss of Gustafsson’s career, and after having worked so hard to earn another title shot, the loss to Jones made Gustafsson question his MMA career. It was the kind of beating that could edge a fighter close to retirement.
Jones, meanwhile, went on to defend his belt once again against Smith in the main event of UFC 235. But just like Gustafsson, Smith suffered a vicious beatdown at the hands, elbows, knees and feet of Jones. Although Smith was able to make it the full five rounds, Jones beat him down like no one’s done before for 25 grueling minutes. Sure, we’ve seen Smith get knocked out before, but we’ve never seen him take a prolonged beating like Jones did to him. Just like the Gustafsson fight, this was a beatdown and the kind of drubbing that makes a fighter consider a career change. Immediately after the fight, Smith said he wanted to take a year off and heal up after the damage Jones did to him. It was the kind of beating that makes a fighter question what they’re doing.
Instead of taking time off to heal, the UFC offered Smith a fight against Gustafsson right after the Jones bout and perhaps surprisingly, Smith took it. Now, the two most recent victims of the champ Jones meet in the main event of UFC Fight Night 153, which takes place this Saturday at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden. Although he needs time off, Smith also couldn’t turn down the opportunity to fight one of the best light heavyweights in the world in Gustafsson and jump right back into the title picture. And the same goes for Gustafsson. Although the Jones loss may have temporarily had him contemplating walking away from the sport, he couldn’t turn down a fight against another top contender in Smith. In many ways, this is the perfect matchup for both men at this point of their careers.
Instead of letting Jones take their soul, both Gustafsson and Smith want to go out there and prove that’s not the case, and that they both have plenty of gas left in the tank. Judging by what we saw from both men at UFC 232 and UFC 235, respectively, Jones took a lot out of them, but both men are not going to let their defeats against Jones define their careers. They both want to go out there and prove they can overcome their latest setbacks, and that’s commendable.
A win, and the victory would show they still have what it takes to win at this level and eventually get another crack at Jones and the belt. A loss, and the loser will be on a losing skid and potentially contemplating retirement. Both Gustafsson and Smith are in must-win situations this weekend as they look to rid the wrongs of their past meetings with Jones and look to rebuild their value as mixed martial artists. Only one man can win, and so UFC Stockholm’s main event is going to be a super important fight for both.