Lightweight Per Eklund was the first from the Nordic nation to enter the Octagon in 2008, but a year after his debut, he was out of the UFC with a 1-2 record. Then came “The Mauler,” and after halting Hamman, he expected to run the table at 205 pounds.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Gustafsson told me before his 2012 win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. “I just knew the big stars were fighting for the UFC. And then I had my first fight and I knocked the guy out in 41 seconds and I was like, ‘Whoa, this is easy. I’m just gonna do this now.’”
Gustafsson got a rude awakening five months later from Davis, who would go on to become a friend and training partner, but the Arboga native wouldn’t lose again for over three years, going 6-0 to earn a shot at Jones’ UFC title in the main event of UFC 165 in September 2013. Yet what was expected to be another big win for Jones instead turned into one of the best title fights in UFC history. Jones got the win, but just barely, as Gustafsson pushed the champion to the limit for five rounds.
That loss may have done more for Gustafsson than any of his previous wins, as it cemented his place as an elite light heavyweight. Two years later, he got another shot at the belt, though this time it was Cormier holding the championship, and again, Gustafsson came perilously close to bringing Sweden its first UFC title before losing a split decision in another instant classic.