Gegard Mousasi (33-3-2, 0-0 UFC) vs. Ilir Latifi (7-2 1 NC, 0-0 UFC)
Mousasi was originally slated to fight Alexander Gustafsson in the night’s main event, but a cut forced Gustafsson out just days before the event, and Latifi steps in on four days’ notice to make a main event UFC debut. Mousasi also makes his UFC debut in his transition over from Strikeforce, and he has been beaten just once over his last 22 fights. Latifi enters with a three-fight win streak and he is 4-1 over his last five.
Fight Breakdown- Mousasi was preparing to fight a tall and lanky striker in Gustafsson, and while Latifi is a training partner of Gustafsson, Mousasi has to throw some, but not all, of his preparation out the window. Latifi may have a bigger advantage in the preparation aspect of the fight, as since he is Gustafsson’s training partner, he likely had to mimic Mousasi for Gustafsson, so Latifi may know what to expect. However, Mousasi is a world-class fighter who, having fought numerous times in Japan, knows the feeling of not knowing who he is fighting until the week of the event.
Mousasi has battled through some injuries recently, and he has not always fought up to the championship potential he has. He did make very quick work of Mike Kyle in his last fight, though, and it was a set-up of what is possibly to come in the UFC. He is a heavy striker with some improving wrestling, but he also has a very slick submission game. The fight has also been moved from five rounds to just three rounds, so his conditioning should not be a question, but it will be a huge question mark for Latifi. Mousasi has heavy ground-and-pound and will pour it on his opponent if he gets on top, so Latifi will need to avoid being on the bottom.
Latifi is perhaps most famously known in the MMA community as being involved in a fight where the ring broke in his MMA debut in 2008. He does have some heavy hands with some knockout wins under his belt, and he has solid submission skills as well, plus he has trained with some tough camps in the past. He started wrestling at the age of six and has a Greco-Roman background, but he has not fought the competition of Mousasi. Mousasi and Latifi have a common opponent- Tatsuya Mizuno. Mizuno knocked out Latifi while Mousasi submitted Mizuno. Mousasi should make quick work of Latifi, but never count out a fighter who has absolutely nothing to lose.
Why It Matters- Mousasi has everything to lose in this fight. Had he beaten Gustafsson, he could have been just one fight away from securing a title shot, and many have salivated at the prospects of Mousasi potentially taking on Jon Jones. A win will put Mousasi on the right path, and potential matchups against the likes of Gustafsson, Lyoto Machida and Glover Teixeira are on the horizon. A loss would be devastating, but he has all the advantages in this fight.
Latifi has everything to gain and nothing to lose. If Gustafsson is the big story of the week, then Latifi is certainly the second biggest story of the week. A win turns this into a cinderella story, while a loss would be what many are already expecting. He will live to fight again another day in the UFC, especially since he is doing them a huge favor, and his next fight will be what matters. This is a no-pressure situation for him.
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