Alexander Gustafsson, who five years ago gave former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones his toughest challenge in one of the greatest bouts in UFC history, wants to fight a rematch in New York on Nov. 3 -- at an event that still does not have a main event.
UFC president Dana White has been adamant that Jones, cleared last week by an independent arbitrator to return from a United States Anti-Doping Agency suspension as of Oct. 28, will not return to the Octagon until the "beginning of next year." But Jones' manager, Malki Kawa, would not definitively close the door Monday on a more imminent return.
Asked during an appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show whether Jones will headline at Madison Square Garden, Kawa said, "No, not as of right now. We're still working on some stuff." So there's a chance? "Probably not. I don't want to get anybody's hopes up."
What Gustafsson (18-4) is hoping for is a call from the UFC to book the Jones rematch, saying on Helwani's show, "I want to welcome him back."
In September 2013, the Swede lost a unanimous decision in a back-and-forth battle in which he took Jones down for the first time in Jones' career, battered him and badly cut him above his eye and sent him to the hospital.
"That's the only fight that really makes sense right now," said Gustafsson, who has been out since May 2017 because of injuries to himself and scheduled opponents. "It's a fight that MMA fans around the world want to see. ... Let's do it. Why wait?"
Jones has not fought since July 2017, when he tested positive for an anabolic steroid prior to his challenge of 205-pound champ Daniel Cormier. Jones knocked out Cormier, but the result was changed to no contest because of the drug-test failure. Cormier had won the belt in the first place after Jones was stripped in 2015 for violating the UFC's Athlete Code of Conduct Policy in a hit-and-run car accident that injured a pregnant woman.
White expects Jones to fight in 2019
UFC president Dana White expects Jon Jones will return to UFC and might be fighting in early 2019.
Despite his self-inflicted career damage, Jones has long been considered the greatest fighter in MMA, pound for pound, and arguably the best ever. For that reason, booking the Gustafsson rematch for November would make sense, considering the venue. The UFC has held only two events at Madison Square Garden, and both made history. In the promotion's New York City debut in November 2016, Conor McGregor became the first fighter to hold championship belts in two weight classes simultaneously. The UFC's return a year later featured three championship bouts, and all of them saw the title belts change hands.
And yet, less than six weeks from fight night, New York has no headliner.
Gustafsson would be willing to meet Jones, if need be, at heavyweight or a catchweight, saying, "Of course. He's a big light heavyweight. I'm a big light heavyweight."
But he believes this bout deserves to be for the light heavyweight championship still held by Cormier, who now owns the heavyweight belt, as well.
"DC doesn't want to fight [at 205 pounds]," said Gustafsson. "He's a heavyweight now. He's just aiming at Brock [Lesnar] right now."
Cormier has indeed been focusing on a big-money fight with Lesnar, the WWE star and former UFC champion. Cormier has said he will retire before his 40th birthday, which is in March. So is there even time for a light heavyweight defense? Does the champ's timetable make room for Jones-Gustafsson II as a title bout?
"It's a great fight," said Gustafsson, "and it's too good not to be about the belt."