And he doesn't see why the UFC should deny him that opportunity just because it pursued a superfight involving his division's champ.
With current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier (20-1) scheduled to move up in weight against heavyweight titleholder Stipe Miocic (18-2) in July, Gustafsson (18-4) says he has asked the UFC to create an interim 205-pound belt.
"Me fighting D.C. [Cormier] for the real title, that opportunity went out the window," Gustafsson said. "I feel I earned my spot off my last performance -- but here we are. With D.C. moving up, the next step for me should be for an interim title. "I brought it up to the UFC. Let's see what happens. All I know is that in my situation, whoever they put in front of me next, it must be for the interim title."
Superfights have been a popular topic in the sport of late.
UFC president Dana White has expressed interest in a matchup between female bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and featherweight champ Cris "Cyborg" Justino. He's done the same for a flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw, the UFC's bantamweight champion.
Gustafsson, who has suffered two close decision losses in UFC title fights to Jon Jones and Cormier, says he understands the intrigue of superfights but believes No. 1 contenders are forgotten as a result.
And with Cormier, 39, openly pondering retirement within the next year, Gustafsson believes the UFC should do right by him while it promotes its superfight.
"I feel like I've been taking fights and climbing ladders, climbing rankings, my entire career," Gustafsson said. "I'm 31 years old. I still feel I'll compete for many years, but right now, every fight has to have a thought behind it. It has to take me the right way. Every fight, you take damage. You take damage in your training camp. I just came back from an injury recently. I've got that fire in me, and I want to take a fight that will actually take me towards my goal.
"D.C. is moving up to heavyweight and that's good for him and it's good for the organization, but for me, the No. 1 contender, it's not fair. It's not fair at all. And no one knows what D.C. will do after this fight. He may put his gloves down and walk away."
Gustafsson, of Sweden, says his main motivation is always to "feel a belt around my waist," but there are also financial ramifications to consider with his situation. The difference between accepting a nontitle fight against a light heavyweight contender and accepting the exact same fight with an interim championship attached could be substantial.
At the end of the day, Gustafsson says he isn't trying to stand in the way of the UFC's summer main event; he just wants what's owed to him -- and in his mind, he's owed a title fight.
"The division is a little crazy right now, it's no secret, but I earned my spot," Gustafsson said. "It doesn't matter who they put in front of me, but I want it to be for the interim belt."