Alexander Gustafsson looked terrible. Clumsy. His timing was way off. He didn't finish with panache.
Yeah, the celebratory cartwheel he launched into after finishing Jimi Manuwa at UFC Fight Night 37 definitely needs some work.
That's about all of the big Swede's game that looked rough around the edges, though, as he swarmed the previously unbeaten British slugger for a second-round TKO in the main event before a throaty throng of 14,604 on Saturday at O2 Arena in London.
How fitting that the hole in Gustafsson's game would be the cartwheel. That look-at-me gymnastics class maneuver is part of Jon Jones' prefight ritual whenever the UFC light heavyweight champion steps into the octagon. Jones' cartwheels are endlessly elegant and seemingly effortless, just like his fights.
Other than his most recent one, of course. That was against Gustafsson, and last September in Toronto the untouchable Jones was touched plenty, and plenty violently. He was taken to the canvas for the first time in his career, beaten up like never before, and forced to draw upon a previously unnecessary reserve in order to win. It was the kind of fight that almost demanded a rematch -- soon.
Gustafsson (16-2), who stands as the No. 1 contender in the 205-pound division only because "uncrowned champion" isn't an option in the UFC rankings, secured a second shot at the belt with Saturday's performance, one that showed him patiently in control yet opportunistically explosive. After taking Manuwa to the canvas within the fight's first 30 seconds, "The Mauler" threatened with submission setups for nearly the entirety of the first round but couldn't do much with the Nigeria-born Brit's tree trunk arms. There was, however, no arm-twisting necessary to determine who was in charge in this fight.
Manuwa was not a pushover. What he was, going in, was a mystery. He'd fought 14 previous fights and won them all, every victory a finish, all but one of them by knockout. Yet he'd never faced UFC top-10 competition, much less the No. 1 contender. Would he be in over his head? Would he rise to the occasion? Gustafsson was wisely cautious.
The fight began in earnest in Round 2 ... even though it was halted shortly after it started, when Manuwa took a finger in the eye. Apparently, he took it personally; as soon as the cageside doctor gave his OK and referee Marc Goddard waved the fighters back together, Manuwa went after Gustafsson aggressively. That put the 27-year-old Swede on the defensive briefly before he backed up Manuwa with a right uppercut, stunned him with a right knee to the chin, and dropped him with a pair of right uppercuts. Bang, bang, bang, and the fight was over at 1:18 of the round.
"Jon Jones, I want my title shot again," Gustafsson said immediately afterward in the cage, after having snatched the microphone away from fighter-turned-analyst Dan Hardy. "I'm right here. Whenever you want, man. Whenever you want."
Jones likely isn't checking his smart phone calendar for open dates on his schedule just yet. First he has an appointment on April 26 in Baltimore with Glover Teixeira. The future datebook will become clearer then.
"If Jones wins, we have a nasty rematch," UFC president Dana White confirmed at the post-fight press conference. "If he doesn't, then it's [Gustafsson] and Glover Teixeira."
It's safe to say Gustafsson would do cartwheels at the booking of either matchup.