Gustafsson's legacy more than just being the bridesmaid and never the bride

Gustafsson: 'It feels like I don't have it in me anymore' (0:34)

Alexander Gustafsson explains why he's retiring after UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Smith. For more UFC on ESPN+, sign up at http://plus.espn.com/ufc. (0:34)

Alexander Gustafsson was asked Saturday what his legacy would be in the UFC. Gustafsson, Sweden's favorite MMA son, announced his retirement at UFC Stockholm following a fourth-round submission loss to Anthony Smith.

"I just try to be what I am," Gustafsson said. "I like to step into the Octagon and just show what I'm made of. I've never been a talker. I've never been a good salesman when it comes to selling fights. I do my talking when I get in the cage and I just had fun doing it."

Classic "Mauler." Nothing flashy or bombastic. No bold proclamations or delusions of grandeur. That's how Gustafsson's 10-year career went in the UFC. He was solid, consistent and got the job done more times than not. Even in defeat, Gustafsson was stalwart.

Gustafsson will go down as one of the best light heavyweight fighters in UFC history. He fought three times for the title, losing twice to Jon Jones and once to Daniel Cormier.

Gustafsson's first fight with Jones, at UFC 165 in 2013, was one of the best fights ever in MMA and the greatest challenge of Jones' career. "Bones," arguably the greatest UFC champion of all time, was pushed to the very brink, and some still feel Gustafsson should have won that bout by decision. Against Cormier at UFC 192 in 2015, Gustafsson was equally tough, nearly escaping with a decision victory then, too.

The numbers back up just how good he was and how close he came to becoming champion. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Gustafsson is the only fighter in UFC history to land more than 100 strikes in two title fights and lose both. He landed 110 strikes on Jones at UFC 165 and 120 on Cormier at UFC 192.

Gustafsson beat just about everyone else in the light heavyweight division, with the exception of Phil Davis and Anthony Johnson, the latter knocking him out in front of his hometown fans in Stockholm in 2015.

Gustafsson's UFC record will stand at 10-6 and he consistently fought top-five opponents in the division. He said on the UFC Stockholm postfight show that the thing he'll miss most about MMA is winning.

"That feeling of getting your hand raised," Gustafsson said. "It's hard to explain with words, you have to do it to understand the feeling of a 'W.' That's what drives me. ... Being there and [winning], you're the king of the world. Nobody can stop you. It doesn't matter what check you get in your hand, it doesn't matter what people say or talk. It's you and you're the f---ing king of the world when you're standing there."

And if Gustafsson wasn't going to be an elite fighter in the 205-pound division, as he had been for the better part of a decade, he didn't want to continue his career.

"It feels like I don't have it in me anymore, to be honest," Gustafsson said. "It feels like I do mistakes that I shouldn't. So I just have the feeling; it's the time now. I don't want be a journeyman, I don't want to do this because I'm getting paid. I just want to do this because I love it and I want to be at the top."

Perhaps equal to anything Gustafsson did inside the Octagon was his value to the UFC as a pioneer in Sweden and Europe, in general. Gustafsson headlined the promotion's first event in Stockholm against Thiago Silva, which aired on Fuel TV in April 2012. At the time, it was the fastest-selling UFC European event, selling out in three hours. The attendance ended up being 15,428.

From 2012 to 2019, over the span of 10 fights, Gustafsson was either the main event (eight times) or co-main event (twice). He headlined four of the UFC's six trips to Sweden. In total, those events, including the one Saturday at Ericsson Globe, drew $9.25 million in ticket revenue.

Gustafsson also headlined events in Germany and England. His absence will leave a major void for the UFC in Europe.

Gustafsson said he'll now focus on his family. He proposed in the cage to his then-fiancée, Moa Antonia Johansson, after his May 2017 knockout win over Glover Teixeira in Stockholm. The couple has two children now, a son and daughter. Gustafsson said his life is "rich" and he has other things to do, including working at the gym he owns in Stockholm.

"It feels like my life is much more than fighting in the Octagon," Gustafsson said.

"The Mauler" said he knew his time was about up in December when he lost for a second time to Jones, a man with whom he will be linked in MMA forever. To Jones, Gustafsson was kind of like a rich man's George Chuvalo, the foe Muhammad Ali called the toughest he ever fought. Jones tweeted about Gustafsson's retirement Saturday.

"You held the division to a standard and made us better," Jones wrote.

Gustafsson did. Without his excellence, the stardom of Jones and Cormier might not be as strong. The UFC might not be as much of a force in Europe. Gustafsson's presence has left an imprint on the sport far greater than his title-fight record as the guy who kept coming in second place.