Gegard Mousasi sports 29 finishes among his 33 career wins. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Nothing spoils an anticipated Ultimate Fighting Championship main event quite like a little training camp bloodshed and an overprotective sanctioning body.
Alexander Gustafsson’s exit due to a cut left the UFC on Fuel TV 9 roster without its marquee attraction and forced the promotion to scramble and settle for a less-than-desirable headliner, as short-notice newcomer Ilir Latifi challenges former Dream and Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi on Saturday at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm.
The UFC on Fuel TV 9 lineup provides plenty of water cooler fodder. Sherdog news editor Mike Whitman and features editor Brian Knapp discuss some of it here:
Whitman: What are Latifi’s chances at upsetting Mousasi?
Knapp: In short, not good. Even on normal notice, Latifi would have been a prohibitive underdog. That he has to face Mousasi with just a few days to prepare only weakens his chances. Latifi will need to rely on his wrestling and employ a game plan similar to the one utilized by Muhammed Lawal in his April 2010 victory over Mousasi. The question becomes whether or not Latifi has the gas tank and wherewithal to pull it off against an opponent as offensively gifted as “The Dreamcatcher.” One has to think Mousasi finishes it with strikes in the first or second round.
Whitman: Does this matchup benefit Mousasi at all in terms of pecking order at 205 pounds?
Knapp: No one lost more with Gustafsson’s withdrawal than Mousasi, who had a chance to make a gigantic splash against a world-ranked title contender in his Octagon debut. A victory over Latifi, no matter how spectacular, does nothing to raise his profile within the UFC.
Whitman: Does Ryan Couture, at 30, have what it takes to carve out a solid career in the UFC or will his late entry into the game prove to be too much to overcome against top-level talent?
Knapp: It all depends on matchups, though the fact that Couture’s famous father has such an icy relationship with UFC brass can only hurt his cause. He draws a difficult assignment in his Octagon debut, especially if Ross Pearson can trap him on the feet and turn their co-main event into a standup- and clinch-heavy affair.
Whitman: Pearson has seen his ups and downs, both at 145 and 155 pounds. Now back at lightweight, will his be a name heard often on future UFC broadcasts or are his days numbered in the ultra-deep lightweight ranks?
Knapp: Pearson has to enjoy some current level of job security with the UFC. He rarely engages in a boring fight and likely has a longer leash than most as an “Ultimate Fighter” winner. Will he ever be a contender at 155 pounds? Probably not; however, the UFC is built on the backs of entertaining fighters, and Pearson certainly fits that bill.
Whitman: Can Matt Mitrione develop into a true heavyweight contender or is he destined to be a placeholder?
Knapp: Mitrione has about as much raw physical ability as any heavyweight on the UFC roster. Unfortunately, he turns 35 in July, and this is a young man’s game. Seeing as though he does not have the time he needs to maximize his potential as a mixed martial artist, he is far more likely to remain a placeholder than he is to develop into a contender.
Whitman: Mike Easton just saw an eight-fight winning streak snapped. Can we expect “The Hulk” to get back on track or will Brad Pickett’s punching power prove to be too much for him?
Knapp: Let us not forget that Easton’s streak was prolonged by his ridiculous decision “victory” over Chase Beebe in October 2009. I see Pickett cruising to a relatively one-sided verdict here. Easton has all the physical tools necessary to become a serious player at 135 pounds, but he lacks the in-cage discipline and adherence to strategy required to compete at the top of the bantamweight division. Against a foe as seasoned and well-rounded as Pickett, that does not seem to be a recipe for success.
Whitman: Diego Brandao has looked like a world beater at times and is coming off of a one-sided win over Joey Gambino. Is the featherweight on a path to excellence?
Knapp: Brandao is an explosive and aggressive fighter. Sometimes those traits work for him and sometimes they conspire against him. That will probably be the case for the rest of his career. Brandao falls somewhere between the upper reaches and the middle tier of the featherweight division, too hot-and-cold to truly contend but more than talented enough to stay relevant.
Whitman: What can we expect from highly touted Irish prospect Conor McGregor in his UFC debut?
Knapp: McGregor has finished his last eight opponents, so he has plenty of momentum entering his first appearance in the hallowed Octagon. He also benefits from the fact that this event takes place in Europe, providing a far more comfortable setting for someone in his position. With that said, McGregor faces a considerable hurdle in Marcus Brimage, who has compiled a 3-0 record since entering the UFC through Season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” No matter how the bout plays out, we stand to learn a lot about McGregor’s potential.
Whitman: Robbie Peralta has not lost since 2009, and his only blemish in his last 10 fights came after a 2011 knockout of Mackens Semerzier was justly changed to a no contest. Will we see Peralta in higher-profile fights in 2013, or will Akira Corassani halt his unbeaten streak?
Knapp: I see Peralta as a potential dark horse at 145 pounds. I think he wipes out Corassani and moves on to bigger and better things.
Whitman: Michael Johnson was outworked and outwrestled by Myles Jury at UFC 155, just as “The Menace” seemed to be hitting his stride. With his three-fight winning streak ruined, how Will Johnson respond against Reza Madadi?
Knapp: One can only be troubled by Johnson’s outing against Jury, who dominated him from start to finish. Hopefully, Johnson has worked to close the holes in his defensive wrestling. Otherwise, he is going to find himself on his back for another 15 minutes against Madadi.