Jimi Manuwa got a nasty surprise when he loaded up the MMA news pages last week.
He learned that comments he had made about Alexander Gustafsson, intended to have a complimentary air to them, had been twisted and taken out of context so as to appear as if he was directing insult the Swedish contender’s way.
Manuwa had been quoted in an official UFC press release to announce the March 8 fight. The line which caused contention was, “I asked for this fight and thought Alex would avoid me”.
That found its way all over the message boards - but not the second half of the line, which added “but he is a true professional and I have great respect for him.”
So today the London man got on the phone to Fighters Only and cleared the issue up. Manuwa, genuinely baffled, said that the “avoid me” line meant that he had expected Gustafsson to just wait it out for the winner of the upcoming Jon Jones/Glover Teixeira fight.
“I don’t know how that all got mixed up. They thought I said that he was trying to duck me? I never said that. He’s a real fighter, he’s never going to duck anyone,” Manuwa told us.
“He’s a great all-round fighter. Good striking, good wrestling, good jiu jitsu. Great boxing, great movement. He is number two in the world and I respect him a lot.
“I wasn’t surprised he was able to bring the fight to Jon Jones. I was probably one of the few people who thought he could do it, genuinely.
“Everyone was saying Jones was going to kill him and that, but Jones didn’t have the height and reach advantage which he uses so well over most opponents.
“I knew Alex had better hands and is very hard to take down so I knew he had the tools to beat Jones. I think if they fight again he will come with a better gameplan and I think he can beat Jon Jones.”
“Alex is a couple of inches taller than me and I think he has got longer reach as well so I have to get inside. But I have fought taller fighters before - Kingsbury, Diabate. I have prepared for taller opponents in the past so I know what to do.
Is Manuwa one of those who thinks that Gustafsson beat Jones and should have won the decision?
“No. I had the fight even going into the fifth round and I think that Jones just edged it, he took that round for me and that won him the fight,” he says.
It is worth noting that, from the point of view of self-PR, Manuwa would have benefited more from saying that he thinks Gustafsson won the fight and that their March meeting will be him vs. ‘the real champion’.
But Manuwa is always brutally honest. Mainstream opinion is that Jones is doing all he can to avoid a Gustafsson rematch. Manuwa thinks that Jones probably wants the rematch quite badly.
“I think he does. I think he wants to beat Alex to silence the critics and cement his position as the number one light-heavyweight,” he says.
“Do I expect a title shot if I win? I guess so, and that would be great for me, but I am just focused on this fight. This is my title shot. He is number two in the world. If I beat Alex, I [see it as I can] beat Jon Jones, so it is the same thing to me,” he says.
Will Jones remain champion after the fight with Teixeira?
“I expect Jones to win. Anything can happen, but I don’t think Glover has enough tools in the striking department to beat Jones. He does have heavy hands but Jones has too many tricks to keep him out,” he says.
“I don’t know, it’s an interesting one. He is meant to be really good on the floor but then you’ll see him make mistakes in his last couple of fights, letting guys get back up.
“He’s got kicks as well but he is more of a boxer whereas I think Jones has the full arsenal when it comes to stand-up. So I see Jones taking the fight.”
What about his own fight with Gustafsson? The tall Swede has a slight size advantage on Manuwa but might be more inclined to take the fight groundwards and avoid Manuwa’s trademark devastating stand-up.
“He is a smart fighter and the smart thing to do is try and take me down. Why risk getting knocked out when you can try and take me down to where he thinks he is stronger? Well, he thinks that he’s stronger and people think that, but we will see,” he says.
“I train wrestling defense a lot, I do a lot of floor work. I train mostly off my back, maybe 65% of it off my back and the rest of it on top. I train gi and no-gi as well as judo. Striking is my preferred method to fight but you have to be well-rounded.
“If you look at Anderson Silva, he is the greatest mixed martial artist of all time but he prefers to keep it standing. He is good on the ground as well though. I work submissions and stand-ups, maybe slightly more towards stand-ups so I can get the fight back where I want it.
“I might go and do a few weeks training in the US, I am yet to decide. At the moment I am just training in the UK. I usually would go to Alliance but there is a conflict of interest because Alex trains there as well.
“Whether or not he goes there for this fight I couldn’t really go there, it wouldn’t make sense for anyone really. I trained there in 2011 for a couple of weeks but Alex wasn’t there, he had gone back to Sweden.
“So I have yet to decide where I am going to go or even if I am going to go. I will either fly a couple of guys again or I might fly out for a couple of weeks.”
As an aspiring champion in his own right, we wanted Manuwa’s opinion on two big December moves in the world of UFC champions. First, Georges St Pierre announcing that he is going on hiatus.
“I think GSP has served the UFC well and he has been a great champion. He has done a lot for the sport and I don’t think he has anything left to prove,” he says.
“He’s 32 now and it is a good age for him, if the hunger has gone then it is a good time to retire. There will always be someone knocking on the door for him, a new challenger or a superfight, so people would be waiting for him to lose.
“It is good that he is going out as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time.”
Second, the Anderson Silva/Chris Weidman rematch. Who wins and why?
“I think Anderson Silva stops him first or second round. Anderson is really angry and he won’t be taking any chances this time. I think he is going to get the job done very quickly.”
And finally: Manuwa is now 3-0 in the UFC with all three wins coming inside the distance. The last twi fights have seen the opponent (Cyril Diabate, Ryan Jimmo respectively) lose by TKO because of leg injury. Has Manuwa learned some pressure-point stuff?
“Ha! If you look back in my career, its happened a few times. I remember fighting Jamie Hearne in like my fourth fight, his leg went the same way that Jimmo’s did - I don’t know what it is, people’s legs just seem to go when I fight them,” he laughs.
The intense, thoughtful Manuwa is fast becoming one of the most compelling figures in MMA. He is the subject of an extended feature in an upcoming print edition of Fighters Only Magazine. Click here for subscription details and release info.
Manuwa faces Gustafsson at the 02 Arena, London, England on Saturday, March 8.