Daniel Cormier would have preferred staking his light heavyweight belt opposite Ryan Bader, but will settle for the equally talented Swede Alexander Gustafsson in his first outing as the UFC’s light heavyweight champion. The league announced the main event fight slated for Oct. 3 at the Toyota Center in Houston during the weekend.
Cormier secured the 205-pound title by scoring a third-round submission win over Anthony “Rumble” Johnson during their main event in May. The wrestler took the mantle from long-standing undefeated light heavyweight Jon Jones after the former was stripped of the belt and was placed on indefinite suspension after a sensational hit-and-run incident.
"DC" voiced his desire to get another crack at Jones after his win over Johnson but was quickly shot down by the promoters. He quickly went down to the next name on his list – third-ranked Bader, who made the prospect intriguing with the stage rushing incident at the post-fight press conference for UFC 187. However, the UFC hatched other plans and selected Gustaffson as the first challenger in line to test the legitimacy of the new light heavyweight king, a pairing that Cormier is not taking lightly.
"I think Alex is a worthy opponent. He'll be a tough challenge," Cormier responded to the news of his title defense. "I'm sure we'll give the Houston fans an exciting and fun fight."
The “Mauler” was on his way to prominence after giving Jones a run for his money during their title fight in 2013. Gustafsson’s aggressive style put the champion on his back for the first time and gave Jones a nasty cut in his right eye, prompting the usually confident American fighter to distinguish his challenger as toughest challenge to date. Gustafsson was on the fast lane for a rematch but he got a dose of his own medicine after Johnson stopped him in the first round via a barrage of strikes during UFC on Fox last January.
The No. 2-ranked Gustafsson will obviously make the most out the opportunity, especially after a bit of a slump in his recent outings. In the meantime, Bader, who was hoping to take out his personal enmity on Cormier, will continue to lobby for a shot at the light heavyweight title, which suddenly looks attainable with the indefinite absence of Jones.