Two veterans of the sport face off on the main card of UFC London this weekend as Ukraine’s Nikita Krylov will take on Sweden’s own Alexander Gustafsson.
The former of the men will put his #11 ranking on the line as the Swede looks to return to 205lbs after the briefest of stints at heavyweight and a two-year-long layoff. Both men are looking to bounce back into the win column following a couple of losses each, Krylov to fellow contenders, Paul Craig, who is also fighting on the card, and Magomed Ankalaev.
Gustafsson will be coming off of a loss to former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum, along with Anthony Smith and the greatest light heavyweight in history Jon Jones.
Regardless of the misfortune in their most recent fights, both men have proven an ability to hang with the best fighters in the world in their weight class, and given a boost with a win over either of them, the winner should be thrown right back into the contenders mix at 205 pounds.
Due to his activity and grappling prowess, Nikita Krylov will be the favorite over the man who thrice challenged for the light heavyweight title.
This is not an easy fight for either man. Both are experienced veterans of the sport, with Krylov entering the MMA ring or cage 36 times and Gustafsson 25. Although Krylov holds more fights under his belt, it is Gustafsson who has fought at the pinnacle, for the UFC belt, on three separate occasions. The experience on both sides has molded very well-rounded fighters, who both have solid skills in all areas and the ability to make good decisions deep into the fight.
Nikita Krylov comes from a Kyokushin Karate background, along with a master of sports in Army hand-to-hand combat in Ukraine and a master of sports in submission grappling. While he has solid all-round striking, his heavy takedowns and top pressure are the bread and butter of his fight style. This has earned him 15 submission victories, followed by 11 knockouts, many of which also ended on the mat. Although he may have the skills to contend with Gustafsson upstairs, it is far more logical for the Ukrainian to chase the takedown. While standing, he is well-rounded, able to punch just as easily as he kicks, and has decent power everywhere. His best tool is his slick front kick to straight left combinations, which he also mixes up on the other side ending with the right. In general, though, he tends to end his combinations with kicks, forcing his opponent to slip out of the way of wide punches and eating the leg on the exit. The other major tactic he will use is to switch stance into the right hook when his opponent’s stands orthodox and use the hook to dig hooks and swivel to the back in order to wrestle his opponent into a back clinch against the fence.
On the mat, he has a variety of tools, but his go-to look is usually to dominate top position by lacing the legs and digging his forehead into his opponent’s chest. He will widen his base when the position is secured so as to force as much top pressure as possible or transition into half guard and sit on the leg, content to rain down ground and pound from there. If he is beaten out in a scramble and ends up on the bottom, he has a particularly effective butterfly guard, which he uses to attempt traditional sweeps or roll up into posture and chain into his own double leg, but what he does not do is look for a stand up as he is so focussed on the grappling match he is in.
This could be both good and bad depending on the opponent, but because he will have the general edge on the canvas against Gustafsson, it’s a solid choice. Gustafsson is the longer fighter with an extra 1.5 inches, but accentuated by his use of footwork. He likes to fight very elusively and unlike Krylov, who will bully his way forward with combinations from the opening bell, Gustafsson has a very calculated approach, first skirting the outer cage and looking to stick big single shots and move before resetting in the center and slowly mastering the speed and range of the fight. He is so committed to constantly resetting and stuffing any of his opponent’s momentum he will often slip, duck, turn and sprint away in order to do so. However, once he has figured out which of his strikes can land consistently, he begins to build combinations off of them, often either the straight right or straight uppercut and chaining hooks and kicks to the end. His best kick is his right low kick, which he steps far left across and lands on the front of the thigh.
In terms of grappling, Gustafsson has an unusual track record. He is known primarily as a striker, but his tendency to mix in takedowns is a pivotal tactic in his style in order to mix things up and keep his opponents uncomfortable. Most fans are familiar with his role as the first fighter to takedown Jon Jones, but he also has success ending up on top of other fighters who on paper should be better on the mat including Glover Texiera and Anthony Smith.
Largely his success is due to the unexpected nature of his takedowns, after threatening enough that his opponent is preoccupied with his boxing and feints, and the fact that he does not take risks once the position is secured. He will stay inside the guard, stay tight and drop very short elbows, careful not to over-extend any limbs or really try to advance and lose position. The major caveat here however is that his readiness to take the fight everywhere has also backfired against Anthony Smith after hurting the American and taking him down to win the round on top, an overconfident Gustafsson too readily looked for another takedown in round two, where he was outclassed and submitted. While it was not him that engaged Werdum on the ground, opportunities to get back to his feet rather than maintain his sprawl and land ground and pound were missed which also ultimately led to the wrong end of a submission.
Gustafsson’s recent track record in the grappling department is likely the reason Krylov is the favorite, along with their recent activity. However, I believe this fight is Gustafsson’s to win or lose, he has to stay disciplined on the feet and humble on the mat as Krylov is usually the faster starter, but Gustafsson has the major edge in accuracy, footwork, and range.
This should allow Gustafsson to stick and move and avoid early flurries and shots from Krylov, to ultimately start pulling ahead in the second half of the fight, but the biggest caveat is that he has to remain on top of the game plan even if opportunities to establish dominant ground position on Krylov arises.
For Krylov, his best shot is getting Gustafsson cold and dry early, where he can’t so easily slip out of submissions, and any rust built up over two years off is most obvious.
However, skill for skill, I think that Alexander Gustafsson is one of the best value underdogs on the cards and should be able to pull off the victory.
Prediction: Alexander Gustafsson to win (+170 odds at MyBookie)