NEWS
04/13/2012 10:17 EDT | Updated 06/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Swedish fighter Alexander (The Mauler) Gustafsson looks to shine in home town

It's time for Alexander (The Mauler) Gustafsson's close-up.

The lanky Swedish light-heavyweight has won four straight and five of six in the UFC.

He fought five times on the undercard before graduating to the main card, where he stopped veteran Vladimir (The Janitor) Matyushenko in the first round last time out at UFC 141.

Now Gustafsson (13-1) finds himself showcased in the main event, facing Brazilian Thiago Silva on Saturday in a televised UFC show at Stockholm's Ericsson Globe Arena.

The six-foot-five Stockholm native was always going to be a major player in the UFC's debut show in Sweden. But Gustafsson has proved in recent outings that he is a rising star in the 205-pound ranks.

He put Matyushenko down with a jab. He floored Matt (The Hammer) Hamill with a string of uppercuts. He survived a rocky opening to submit James Te Huna. He punished stringbean kickboxer Cyrille Diabate on the ground en route to a submission. And in his UFC debut, he outstruck Jared Hamman.

They are not marquee names but they're not chumps either and Gustafsson has disposed of all of them, from England to Australia and Abu Dhabi to Las Vegas.

The only blemish on his record is a decision loss to Phil (Mr. Wonderful) Davis, a former NCAA champion wrestler, at UFC 112 in April 2010. Gustafsson showed his smarts after that fight by training with Davis.

He still does and spent several weeks preparing for this fight with Davis' Alliance MMA crew in the U.S.

Gustafsson is a finisher, ending eight of his 14 fights in the first round. Only one of his bouts has gone to decision.

"He has the gift of hands," light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones told a media conference call Friday. "Everybody has gifts. His seem to be in his hands."

"He looks tough," added former light-heavyweight title-holder Rashad Evan, who fights Jones on April 21 at UFC 145. "Long, rangy, athletic."

Originally slated to meet Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in Sweden, Gustafsson found himself facing Silva after a knee injury sidelined Nogueira.

The new matchup adds some mystery. Silva (14-2 with one no contest) has been out of action since Jan. 1, 2011, after being suspended for trying to tamper with a urine test.

"Inconsistent with human urine," was the Nevada State Athletic Commission's verdict.

The 29-year-old Brazilian, known for his throat-slitting gesture after wins, later admitted to taking steroids to help get over a back injury and trying to cover it up.

Silva was suspended a year, fined US$33,750 and his UFC 125 win over Brandon (The Truth) Vera was overturned.

He was slated to fight Vera again after the ban was lifted but an injury to the American fighter took care of that. A bout with Igor Pokrajac was shelved when Nogueira was hurt and Silva was headed to Sweden.

Silva is a predator on his feet who also has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. But no one knows how the lengthy layoff will affect him.

"I expect the best Thiago there is," said Gustafsson.

Silva's UFC pedigree is clear, however. All five wins came by knockout or submission and the only people to beat him are former champions Lyoto (The Dragon) Machida and Rashad Evans.

Gustafsson calls Silva a good fighter — and the most dangerous opponent he has faced.

But he has also said the Brazilian is not a good sportsman, explaining he thought Silva showed "no respect" in the drug-tainted Vera fight.

"But what's done is done. I'm just focusing on my fight right now," the Swede said.

"No matter what he brings, I'll be ready for it."

Whatever happens, Silva will be looking up. While a big man himself at six foot one, the Brazilian faces a six-foot-five opponent in Gustafsson. The 25-year-old Swede normally walks around at 230 pounds, cutting down to 205 for fights.

Gustafsson moves well, has good boxing skills and is resourceful when it comes to wrestling. But he may want to stay off the ground against Silva.

Before he turned to combat sports, Gustafsson played hockey and says he was "quite good."

"I found out that this team thing wasn't really my thing ... I like to be alone and do my own thing," he added.

Gustafsson said in the cage after his Matyushenko win that fighting in Las Vegas was a dream for him. Soon after, he learned that he would be fighting at home.

"It's one dream after another," Gustafsson said.

"I'm just enjoying every day," he added. "I do what I love to do."

Sweden is the latest European country to host a UFC event, joining England, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Germany.

The big Swede, who is engaged, says fighting in his backyard has not proved to be a distraction even if he gets now recognized in the street. MMA is growing every day in Sweden, he says.

"We've got some good talent. We've got gyms popping up everywhere and we've got a good fan base. But after this event, it will be massive."

Gustafsson keeps track of his own career via a tattoo on his left arm. Under an ace of clubs are rows of sharks teeth designating his won-lost record (the wins are black, his one loss is just the outline of the tooth).

He hasn't got round to updating the Matyushenko win with some new ink but says he will after Saturday.

"I will add two black shark's teeth," he said.

Both Gustafsson and Silva weighed in at 205 Friday.