After a month-long hiatus from UFC programming, MMA fans everywhere were going to be treated with a very compelling matchup of Alexander Gustafsson vs. Gegard Mousasi on April 6, 2013 at UFC on Fuel TV 9 in Stockholm, Sweden. Unfortunately for fans, Gustafsson suffered a gaping cut on his face that forced the SMMAF Medical Committee to remove him from the bout.
At first it looked like Wanderlei Silva would step up to fight Mousasi. Instead, Dana White announced yesterday that Ilir Latifi would replace Gustafsson in the main event. I don’t know about you but my reaction looked a lot like this:
To add insult to injury, Dana White misspelled Latifi’s name as “Iliir Latifa” in his announcement. If it was clear already that the UFC doesn’t take Fuel TV cards seriously, that announcement certainly solidified that fact. If the UFC had booked a few more solid, relevant, and compelling match ups on the card, the loss of the headliner wouldn’t sting so much. However, as it currently stands, this may be one of the worst cards the UFC has ever put on. But, at least it’s free! (except for Swedish ticket holders).
Either way, we are going to have some fights on Saturday so let’s get to know our interesting late replacement: Ilir Latifi. The main reason why he was selected was because he is Swedish; any time a fighter from out of country wants to fight and make money in another country, they have to apply for a work visa. This is a process that takes a good deal of time and it is likely the reason why foreign fighters were ruled out as potential late replacements. He also trains with Gustafsson in Sweden so he is in some semblance of fight shape.
Secondly, he is a smaller light-heavyweight, only measuring 5’8′. He will likely have no problems making the weight on Saturday. He is a small, compact, wrestler who uses his brute strength to drag opponents to the mat and beat them up. He is currently riding a 3 fight win streak and won two fights under the Ultimate Glory promotion before taking a decision over WEC vet Jorge Oliviera at Superior Challenge 6 on October 6, 2012.
On the other hand, that is probably his most impressive win. He dropped a unanimous decision to Bellator veteran Emmanuel Newton in 2011 and was knocked out by Tatsuya Mizuno in 2009. He has never fought in the UFC and has never faced a top 50 light-heavyweight, let alone Mousasi who is at least in the top 15. More than likely, Mousasi is going to put his lights out in violent fashion. The one thing that Latifi does have going for him is his wrestling pedigree. He will look to take Mousasi down to avoid his fearsome striking but getting him there will be no small feat.
In any case, Latifi showed some real guts by taking a fight with one of the best strikers in the light-heavyweight division on short notice. We can only hope he comes out swinging and brings some life to a card that looks poor on paper.
What do you think fight fans? Do you think Latifi has a shot? Get at me @samgenovese on Twitter.