It has been a hectic week leading up to Saturday's card for UFC on Fuel TV 9 in Stockholm, Sweden. When one-half of the original main event, Alexander Gustafsson, suffered a cut about his left eye, speculation spread like wildfire through the MMA community about whether "The Mauler" would be able to make the bout against Gegard Mousasi.
Once Gustafsson's cut was reviewed by the Swedish Mixed Martial Arts Federation on Tuesday, the commission deemed the injury too severe to let the fight go on. With the Team Alliance fighter now off the card, the UFC scrambled to find a replacement just four days away from fight night.
That is when Ilir Latifi's phone rang. And several moments later, "The Sledgehammer" was set to face Mousasi in the main event on Saturday.
Suddenly, the 29-year-old Swedish-born fighter went from training in the gym and dreaming making his name to having the opportunity to do so.
"I was overwhelmed and shocked that they gave me the chance," Latifi told Bleacher Report. "It's a good scenario to make an impression. My dream has always been to fight in the UFC and be a UFC champion.This isn't the debut most people thought it would be, but life doesn't give you many chances like this. When they come you have to take them. You have to prepare to make the most of them and that is what I plan to do."
While Latifi may be the lesser-known fighter in the matchup with Mousasi, the former Swedish National Team wrestler is an accomplished grappler. In addition to his wrestling credentials, Latifi also carries a three-fight win streak into the fight with Mousasi, as he's built up momentum on the regional MMA scene.
While it is no secret that the bout is a high-risk fight for Mousasi, Latifi believes both men will feel pressure on fight night—just of a different variety.
"There is pressure on both of us, but the pressure is different. He's fighting an underdog and somebody that is unknown. There is pressure on me because I want to achieve. I want to win this fight," Latifi said.
"He prepared for a different kind of fighter. With me having a different kind of style, that changes his game plan a little bit."
Duane Finley is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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