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The UFC pays a visit to Sweden on Saturday for UFC on ESPN+ 11. Like the promotion’s past two visits to the country, the card is headlined by a light heavyweight bout featuring Sweden’s own Alexander Gustafsson, who faces Anthony Smith.
Gustafsson, a three-time title challenger, saw a two-fight winning streak come to an end in December when Jon Jones stopped him via TKO in the third round of their matchup for the vacant belt. Smith was on a three-fight winning streak until Jones defeated him by decision in March in his first attempt at UFC gold.
UFC on ESPN+ 11 takes place at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm and streams on ESPN+. Here are eight burning questions heading into the card.
1. Does Alexander Gustafsson still have it?
In the days after he signed to fight Smith, Gustafsson said that if he can’t beat the recent UFC light heavyweight title challenger, “then maybe I don’t have it anymore.”
Some read those comments as Gustafsson (18-5 MMA, 10-5 UFC) denigrating the skills of his UFC on ESPN+ 11 opponent. Gustafsson said he meant just the opposite, that Smith (31-14 MMA, 7-4 UFC) is a tough and worthy opponent, and that his goal is to hand Smith his second consecutive defeat and move up the rankings.
Gustafsson was and is one of the best fighters in the UFC. He is correct to wonder about his future if he loses to Smith. A defeat here means a slip down the rankings and having to work his way back to a potential title shot. With three title fights already on his resume, Gustafsson will have a hard time getting booked for a fourth. He hopes to hang onto his spot in the rankings and force himself back in. With eight years and 15 fights in the UFC, I wouldn’t blame Gustafsson for his disinterest in fighting his way back through the rankings.
2. Is Anthony Smith ready for this fight?
Less than two weeks after he lost to Jones, Smith accepted a fight with Gustafsson. At the time, Smith seemed less than jazzed about the concept of fighting anyone, least of all the fighter who is ranked No. 3 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie light heavyweight rankings.
Smith, who is ranked No. 12, said that, due to his busy schedule (UFC on ESPN+ 11 will mark his sixth fight in 15 months), he has been in training camp for 40 of the past 60 weeks.
Perhaps Smith’s tune on fighting too much will change, if it already hasn’t. But the fact remains that he gave an honest and open response to the fight booking, and it’s hard not to wonder if he’s ready to face a task as daunting as Gustafsson after such a grueling schedule of training, fighting and being away from his family.
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