Alexander Gustafsson didn’t make it to the post fight press conference after UFC 192.
Following a split decision loss to Daniel Cormier Saturday night, Gustafsson, who was transported to the hospital for precautionary reasons, didn’t get to comment on his role in another legendary title fight.
So Cormier did it for him.
“He had a fight of the year candidate in 2013 with Jon Jones, and him and I just had one of the best fights of the year tonight,” Cormier gushed. “There aren’t many guys in this world that can say they fought Jon and I both to split decisions for the UFC light heavyweight championship.”
After 25 minutes with Cormier, the self-proclaimed “King of the Grind,” Gustafsson earned the champion’s respect.
Cormier didn’t know if he had won the fight as he made the final walk back to his corner. His coaches were confident, but when the punches are flying it’s not always easy to do the math.
“Your heart is racing as you walk back to the center of the Octagon not exactly knowing what happened,” Cormier said. “You’re bloodied up, you’re hurting – everything hurts. He made me fight at a level I didn’t even know I could go to, and I appreciate him for it.”
Cormier came out in the first round and sent the Swede flying through the air of Toyota Center with a huge slam. DC then went into grind mode, smothering Gustafsson.
But after three minutes on his back, Gustafsson was able to sweep Cormier, who was holding a dominant position in side control, and get the fight back to the feet.
And then the fight was on.
More from UFC 192: Post-fight bonus recap | Full results | Fight statistics | Fight Night Blog | Cormier outlasts Gustafsson to win by split decision | Bader wins by unanimous decision in co-main |Pena, Benavidez and Magomedov go distance in wins |KO’s, subs and more in UFC 192 prelims | Northcutt impressive in debut | Lewis, S. Pettis win early| Watch: Rose Namajunas talks to Megan Olivi backstage
Gustafsson stood toe to toe with the champion, exchanging at distance and inside. He even wrestled Cormier, shooting in and answering DC’s takedown in the first with one of his own in the second.
“The kid took me down twice,” Cormier said. “I’m on the ground like, ‘How in the world did that happen.’ Like, my takedown defense is suffering. I don’t know what I’m doing out there.”
The champion’s face was bloodied in the second and it seemed to fuel him. He began to work in close, grabbing at every clinch opportunity and firing away.
“We were in the clinch a couple times and I was holding his head and uppercutting him. And I was hitting him so hard,” Cormier said. “He just kept taking them. I was waiting for his legs to buckle, but they never did.
“I think that shows you what kind of power Anthony Johnson actually has, because I was hitting him as hard as I could and he wasn’t going anywhere.”
Johnson shocked the world back in January when he finished Gustafsson in the first round by TKO. But that was the wakeup call Gustafsson needed, and he applied what he learned in this fight.
In the third round, Gustafsson had his signature moment. He landed a knee followed by a huge left hand that dropped Cormier. He tried to swoop in and finish, but the champion survived.
After another close round in the fourth, an exhausted Cormier came out in the fifth and final round and just kept punching. He threw kicks with what he believes is a broken foot because it’s what was necessary to win.
As for Gustafsson, Cormier joked before the fight that the Swede should go back to his home country after the fight to be a full-time model. But after UFC 192, DC doesn’t want Gustafsson going anywhere.
“This sport needs more guys who can go out there and lay it all on the line against the best fighters in the world,” he said.
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC