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Post-fight Thoughts with Johann Castro: UFC Stockholm

The UFC has come and left the Swedish metropolis of Stockholm with a card that delivered on the action. Half of the 12 bouts that took place on Saturday night ended inside the distance, and as is the case with every event, a new set of storylines can now be drafted for us fans to stew over and speculate on for the next little while. I’m no different, I’m just lucky enough to have a platform to express my opinions on the matter. So, if you’d like to know what one daft fool named Johann thinks, here you go…

ANTHONY SMITH IS THE LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT JOSE ALDO



A post shared by Anthony "Lionheart" Smith (@lionheartasmith) on Jun 2, 2019 at 12:08pm PDT

Saturday’s main event winner Anthony Smith sent the Swedish fans home in tears, not only because he beat their favorite fighter, but also because he forced him into an early retirement (more on that in a bit). After three competitive rounds with neither man really gaining an edge, Smith was ultimately able to breakthrough in the fourth, after countering a poor takedown entry from Alexander Gustafsson and gaining back control on the Swede. Smith submitted Gustafsson with a rear naked choke and solidified his status as the light heavyweight equivalent of Jose Aldo. What I mean when I say that is, he’s now the “ultimate gatekeeper” (again, I really need to coin that) at 205. After a routine performance against Jon Jones in March that saw the fight play out as almost everyone expected, it was an uncertainty as to what “Lionheart” we’d see this time around. Sure enough, the demons that haunted Smith in the Jones fight were conquered against Gustafsson, and mighty well at that. But as I referenced with another story prior in the week, did it really do anything for his title hopes? At the moment, not really. But it did give Smith an identity, something he never really had before. Smith is now the title gatekeeper at 205, the man who every hungry contender must get through to prove they’re ready for a matchup with Jon Jones. Same as the case with Jose Aldo at featherweight, he’s an elite fighter, but already had his chance against the champ. Smith is now the guy who all of these hot shot prospects like Johnny Walker and Aleksandar Rakic should have to face to prove they’re ready for the pinnacle, the “ultimate gatekeeper”.

ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON CALLED IT QUITS AT THE PERFECT TIME



A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Jun 1, 2019 at 1:05pm PDT

After being finished in the fourth round via rear naked choke for his second consecutive loss, Alexander Gustafsson elected to give his hometown crowd one last reason to give him a little praise, as he ceremoniously took off the gloves and set them down in the Octagon at the Ericsson Globe, signifying his MMA swan song. Immediately after Gustafsson’s retirement, the MMA community showed love all throughout social media thanking the light heavyweight legend for all he’s done to entertain and deliver every time he’s fought. For my money, this is how every fighter should aim to go out. Conceivably not on a loss, per se, but with fans serenading you and thanking you for giving your all, each and every time that Octagon enveloped you. Had Gustafsson won, the question becomes, would he have retired? Maybe, maybe not, but what better way than to do it in front of your home crowd in the main event of a card essentially built for you and your team. Gustafsson more than likely accomplished all he was ever going to in the UFC. He is quite arguably the best light heavyweight, along with Anthony Johnson, to never win a UFC championship, and considering the era he fought in, dominated by Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, it’s hard to call Gustafsson’s career a “disappointment”, or “failure.” Rather, let’s just see him as what he truly is, which is that of a man who essentially pioneered MMA excellence in all of Scandinavia.

ADD THE NAME “ALEKSANDAR RAKIC” TO THE LIST OF FUTURE JON JONES VICTIMS



A post shared by Aleksandar Rakic (@rakic_ufc) on May 9, 2019 at 11:10pm PDT

To preface, let me say that I’m a huge fan of Aleksandar Rakic. Ever since his debut in Rotterdam back in 2017 when he bowled over a crafty veteran in Francimar Barroso, I had a great feeling he’d be a ranked contender at some point, and his rise up the ranks since has been monumental and no doubt well earned. It took him only four UFC appearances to earn a number next to his name, and given the pattern of how UFC contracts are typically given, his most recent bout with Jimi Manuwa was likely the last on his first contract; so, in theory, he should be getting a nice little rise in pay with his next UFC contract. His head kick knockout of Manuwa has to be on the shortlist of knockout of the year candidates through the first half of 2019, and 100% earned that performance of the night bonus. But, here we go yet again. As is the case with every up and comer, especially in weaker divisions like a light heavyweight, people are already anointing him as the one to finally put an end to Jon Jones’ reign at 205. Let me be the first to tell the masses that once again, you’re wrong. Prior to the knockout of Manuwa, watch Rakic’s technique. His footwork was all over the place, his kickboxing style, while dynamic, wasn’t crisp, like that of someone like an Israel Adesanya. I was impressed by his win, just like everyone else, but keep in mind we weren’t watching a world championship level performance. We watched a very big light heavyweight with a kickboxing background floor a one dimensional   on a losing streak and probably a foot and a half out the door (more on that momentarily). Rakic is an outstanding fighter, and while he is incredibly skilled, his technique is very raw and lacks that sharpness that’s needed to beat a special talent like Jones. Now, of course, Rakic is improving fight by fight, but because of his current style, it appears he is more slated to go down the Anthony Smith path rather than the Jon Jones path. Essentially, eventually being that “ultimate gatekeeper”, a consistently top contender who’ll do great against anyone not named Jon Jones. I could even see Rakic going unbeaten in the UFC up until an imminent title fight, where it’d be just another day at the office for Jones.

ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON RETIRED AT THE RIGHT TIME, NOW IT’S JIMI MANUWA’S TURN



A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Jun 1, 2019 at 12:12pm PDT

This is a plea to one of my favorite fighters of the last few years.

“Jimi Manuwa, my friend, it’s time to call it a career. You’re 39 years old, your last four performances have been absolutely dreadful, and your most recent knockout loss made everyone in the arena think that you may have literally been knocked dead. In a span of a year and a half, you’ve gone from being ranked in the top 3, to now on a four-fight losing streak, and they’ve been ugly losses at that, and potentially being unranked. Your legacy is sealed, you’re an action fighter and a fan favorite, your wars with Jan Blachowicz and Thiago Santos were some of the best fights the division’s ever produced. Some guys just aren’t destined to be champions, some guys embrace their roles as action fighters, and you seemingly started to do that recently, as you said during this most recent fight week that you sacrifice wins for performances. That’s a great mindset to have…if you’re winning, not even all the time, just some of the time. The bottom line is this: the fans will always love you. The UFC likes having you around to stick on European cards to give them a bit more luster and excitement, and of course, I’m just some fool on the internet, so my opinion ultimately means absolutely nothing. But as much as we all love watching you fight, watching you get virtually knocked dead is hard for many of us that watched you dominate perennial contenders in magical ways, like piecing up Corey Anderson and knocking OSP into another realm. Leave on your merit. Leave while those good memories are in our minds. Leave while we still see you as one of the most entertaining 205ers of all time, and not as one who did it for too long and took an unnecessary beating. Be like your teammate Alex. Ride off into the sunset together. Allstars MMA will be fine without you guys, since you two have helped turn it into one of the best gyms in all of Europe. It’s time, Jimi. For yourself, for your family, and for all of us who still respect you and what you’ve done for us and for all of MMA.”

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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