Gegard Mousasi - Ilir Latifi
Injuries happen in sports, but when they derail what otherwise promise to be tantalizing spectacles, they’re often bitter pills to swallow. This weekend MMA fans had a bout between rising light heavyweight phenomenon Alexander Gustafsson and Gegard Mousasi to salivate over. But within just a week of Gustafsson’s appearance on UFC on Fuel TV 9 from his native Sweden, he was pulled out of the event with an injury. A cut sustained over his eye from wrestling, meant the Swedish Mixed Martial Arts Federation deemed him unfit to take part. Everyone was left sorely disappointed, none more so that Dana White, who labelled it “the worst decision ever to pull a fight”.
But one person who could not be more overjoyed is Ilir Latifi. Even the most ardent connoisseurs of MMA are clueless as to who Latifi is. The 7-2-1 Swede from Malmo has been a fixture on the local circuit building up a respectable of somewhat inflated record. How good is he? Well, the UFC overlooked him twice previously when they staged cards in Sweden. Latifi has talent, one glance at his highlights on YouTube will illustrate that. But is he of the caliber of the UFC? Far from it. Still it makes a good story if not a great spectacle. Expect Mousasi to dominate and pull out a quick stoppage in what is a far from quality UFC headlining event.
Ross Pearson - Ryan Couture
Pearson, a former winner of The Ultimate Fighter is devoid of a back to back victory on his record since 2010, and yet he is overwhelming favorite when he faces Couture in a lightweight bout that for all intents and purposes will be the headline event due to Gustafsson’s withdrawal. Pearson is a good boxer, is fundamentally sound in defense but lacks any real defining strengths. After a stint at 145 pounds, he got a victory knockout victory over George Sotiropoulos which perhaps flatters to deceive. As for Couture, it must be difficult to have the same name as his father and Hall of Famer Randy. Sure, it opens doors that would otherwise be locked to him, but the expectations are stratospherically high once given a shot.
Couture stands a chance of victory by trying to prolong the fight and use his reach to keep Pearson at bay. As for Pearson, the favorite, the best shot is to box and rush Couture and overwhelm him with blows. Expect a one sided affair as thrilling as the actual “headline” event.
Diego Brandao - Pablo Garza
It’s a shame that the one fight that promises to be a volatile affair is lower down on the undercard, because all the ingredients for a rapid slugfest are there. Take Garza [12-3], who used patience and range to defeat Mark Hominick at UFC 154 but overall is known for his aggressive tendencies. Sure, his 3-2 record in the UFC might not dazzle anyone, but both victories and defeats generally came by way of an interesting scrap.
As for Brandao, one of the countless former winners of The Ultimate Fighters littering the promotion, he only knows one way to fight - full steam ahead (even if the steam runs out before the end of the bout). Sure, Brandao might have been more measured and methodical in his fight at UFC 153 where he dispatched Joey Gambino by a decision, but just look at his defeat to Darren Elkins at UFC 146 to see how his kamikaze approach doesn’t always pay off. In a blistering first round Brandao was swinging and kicking like a windmill, only to be gassed the rest of the way to a resounding defeat.
While only half of Brandao’s victories have ended with knockouts, it seems the aggressive bullying approach is one he will go forward with from now on. It might not be the best of decision for his career, but it’s one that does nothing but please fans. If Garza weathers the storm that has been forecast then the fight is his. As for Brandao, with his chips all laid out on the table it will be interesting to see how he fairs. If he gets inside of Garza’s guard then expect fireworks. if not, it could be a long night for Brandao and his swashbuckling style.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter: @iguryashkin.