Alexander Gustafsson Replacement Ilir Latifi: 5 Things to Know
The owls were out in force across the MMA corners of the Internet Tuesday evening. That's around the time the UFC revealed Alexander Gustafsson's replacement in the main event of UFC on Fuel 9, going down Saturday from Stockholm, Sweden.
The replacement: Ilir Latifi.
And out came the owls. "Who?" they wailed. "WHOOOOO?!??!"
Few seemed familiar with Latifi. Actually, maybe no one was. Except, wait a second. What's that? Someone actually suggested Latifi as a possible replacement on Monday? Oh, wait, wait...was that...was that me? Bleacher Report slideshow writer Scott Harris? So it was.
Save your jokes about the blind squirrel finding the nut. I'd rather be a blind squirrel than an owl. Burn!
But seriously, there's no question Latifi is "flying under the radar"—to further my owl metaphor—of more than a few stateside fans. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be an easy out for Gegard Mousasi Saturday night, especially given that Mousasi is also making his UFC debut. There's also the small matter of fact that Latifi, who is very popular in his native Sweden, will be enjoying some home cooking, which, if Ikea has taught me anything at all, is meatballs.
Here are five slides to help you get acquainted with the UFC's newest main eventer.
Photo credit: MMA Viking
Full name: Ilir "The Sledgehammer" Latifi
Professional record: 7-2 (1 NC), 3 wins by submission, 2 wins by T/KO
Division: Light heavyweight
Promotion: Superior Challenge (based in Sweden)
Latifi, who trails only Gustafsson in Nordic site MMA Viking's light heavyweight rankings, is, quite simply, a load. His background is in submission wrestling and his training home base appears to be Pancrase Gym Sweden. He's got that Jeff Monsonesque mailbox build that makes his center of gravity almost nonexistent.
Latifi has plenty of grappling credentials outside MMA, most notably winning the 98-kilogram ADCC European Trials in 2005. Also competing in the bracket that year? One Alistair Overeem (they didn't fight, though).
Take a look at the highlight video. You'll see that his takedowns are pretty hard to resist, and his ground-and-pound and submissions are quite potent.
Latifi's stand-up, on the other hand, is rather less well-developed. Mousasi is an extremely dangerous stand-up fighter (and plenty polished on the ground to boot). Nevertheless, despite the fact that Gustafsson and Latifi are friends who have trained together in the past, it's pretty safe to say Latifi presents Mousasi with a rather different set of challenges compared with Gustafsson.
He Hasn't Only Fought Cans
True, his victims list is not exactly a murderer's row, but Latifi has a few names on his resume that fans might recognize.
His last loss in the cage came in July 2011 at the hands of Emanuel Newton, who recently won Bellator's Season 8 Light Heavyweight Tournament. Here's some video from that fight.
Last May, he took a decision win over longtime King of the Cage belt holder Tony "Kryptonite" Lopez.
He also helped Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva prepare for his bout with Fedor Emelianenko. And we all know how that one turned out. He has also worked with Rashad Evans, Anthony Johnson and other fighters who later formed the Blackzilians camp.
He Once Broke a Ring
Photo credit: ADCC Barcelona
I wasn't able to find any photos or embeddable footage of the bout in question, though you can check this link for some nice, grainy video.
According to his fight record on Sherdog, his first professional contest, against Blagoi Ivanov, was ruled a no contest after the "ring broke." In the linked video, you can see Latifi drive Ivanov into the ropes, knocking down the ring post in the process and prematurely ending the fight.
He Actively Campaigned for This Fight
Photo credit: MMA NYTT
Does it mean he'll win? No. But it does mean he's hungry. That's refreshing given the historical reluctance of other, more established fighters to step up on short notice. For that, if nothing else, Latifi deserves respect.
Follow Scott Harris on Twitter.