UFC on Fuel TV 9 went down Saturday from the Ericsson Globe Arena in The City That Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Stockholm, Sweden.
The main event originally featured light heavyweight contender and wildly popular Swede Alexander Gustafsson, who was supposed to fight Gegard Mousasi, a young but experienced stud making his UFC debut after years of tantalizing and sometimes disappointing fans in other MMA promotions.
But then came The Cut. Goodbye, Gus. Hello, Ilir Latifi, an accomplished grappler but a relatively unexceptional mixed martial artist.
So what happened in the main event? What happened across the card, including the Facebook prelims, which began at like four in the morning on the West Coast? W and L are only two of the letters one can employ when concocting an analysis. To identify the real winners and losers from Stockholm, we used all 26.
Early in the second round, Michael Kuiper, who was winning the fight at that point, ran headlong into a Tom Lawlor guillotine choke to seal his own fate (UFC release) and that of the popular Lawlor (avoiding UFC release).
It was a gutty effort from Lawlor, who persevered through an early knee injury to secure the tap and at least one more Zuffa paycheck.
The Cage Warriors two-division champ is probably already the best Irish cage fighter ever.
Of course, if you want to get factual about it, Tom Egan is the only other Irishman to fight in the UFC, and he went 0-1. Maybe that's why there was uncertainty over whether that green wave of hype Conor McGregor rode into his Octagon debut was justified.
After McGregor's first-round TKO of a fired-up Marcus Brimage evened Ireland's all-time UFC record, there should be no more uncertainty. That green wave is probably set to swell to a tsunami. We could look back at this humble card and remember it as the start of something big.
Poor Adam Cella. When last we saw Cella, he was on the undesirable end of the nastiest knockout so far in 2013 and the history of The Ultimate Fighter. Against TUF-mate Tor Troeng on Saturday, he was tapping like Samuel Morse.
After this first-round chokeout loss, it's hard to imagine Cella, likable though he is, remaining in the employ of Zuffa LLC.
Sweden's Reza Madadi stirred up the hornet's nest, and for a minute it looked like he would be stung. A perfectly measured head kick from Michael Johnson—whom Madadi went out of his way to antagonize at the weigh-in and in the moments before the fight—nearly finished Madadi in the first round. But Madadi hung tough, fought back and steered the action to the ground, where he wore down Johnson and finished it with a D'arce choke in the third.
The Swedish crowd, boisterous throughout the event, may have reached its crescendo when Madadi vaulted over the cage and bounded into the crowd Jose Aldo-style. It was a defining moment for the hyper-emotional Madadi's career to this point.
Fans and pundits nodded approvingly when the Blackzilians camp—sizzling hot a year ago, fizzling fast ever since—hired Olympian Kenny Monday Wednesday (and what's on second) as a wrestling coach.
Apparently, he couldn't get out there fast enough to keep Blackzilian Michael Johnson from being outgrappled by Madadi.
In his first fight on a UFC main card, Robbie Peralta fell flat. He was his usual hard-hitting self, but the killer instinct was absent. He had Akira Corassani on roller skates more than once, but always permitted a recovery.
Was the moment too big for Peralta? Was he simply outfought by an energized Corassani, who took the decision in front of his countrymen? I have no idea. But Peralta's first Octagon loss was a setback for more than just his record.
Raise your hand if you ever thought you'd see this tweet:
Pickett vs Easton is awesome!!!!— Dana White (@danawhite) April 6, 2013
Now keep your hands up. People with your hands down: Look around at the people with their hands up. These are the filthy liars among you.
It wasn't a Pier Sixer, but it was a very good fight and downright action-packed by Mike Easton standards. In fact, it was the Fight of the Night bonus winner for the event.
Easton, a significant underdog, engaged Brad Pickett in all phases and for the full 15 minutes. He fired off punches, knees and even a spinning elbow. He landed takedowns as well as defended them (though Pickett did take Easton down for the first time in Easton's UFC career).
Though he lost a split decision, the D.C. bantamweight did more than enough to shore up his job security.
Phil De Fries is regularly lauded by broadcasters and others as "one of the best heavyweight grapplers in the United Kingdom." Earlier this week, I compared that to the distinction of being one of the best marlin fishermen in Nebraska.
And when De Fries dialed up his inner Gus Frerotte and knocked himself out on Mitrione's hip while shooting in for a takedown, the truth of that analogy shone through. For you see, there are no marlin in Nebraska, my friend. There are no marlin in Nebraska.
Longtime fans lament the show's inability to cultivate the same quantity or quality that it once did. Sure, the time when The Ultimate Fighter could consistently turn out the likes of Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Kenny Florian, Michael Bisping, Diego Sanchez, Chris Leben and so on is probably over. But the show can still find, develop and promote legitimate talent.
Case in point: UFC on Fuel 9. Ten TUF alums stepped into the Stockholm-tagon, and six emerged as winners: Tom Lawlor, Tor Troeng, Akira Corassani, Diego Brandao, Matt Mitrione and Ross Pearson. And what's more, all these winners but one (Corassani) did so by stoppage.
The best win of the bunch might have been co-main eventer Ross Pearson, who overcame some thick defense to drop the curtain on Ryan Couture.
Yes, four guys did lose—Ben Alloway, Marcus Brimage, Adam Cella and Michael Johnson. (Although Cella fought Troeng, so that should really cancel out or only count as half.) Still, I'd say a 60 percent win clip is nothing to sneeze at.
For a second or two, I thought about making Mousasi a loser. He popped his jab, stuffed Latifi's single takedown attempt and coasted to a conservative victory. Why not go for the finish? Why not get a little more aggressive in there?
But you know what? All bets are off when the opponent—and the opponent's style—changes on such short notice. When you consider that and this being Mousasi's first UFC contest, the conservative game plan makes more sense. He used his longer reach, sharper boxing instincts and deeper gas tank to bloody Latifi's face, grind him down, take the W, get the heck out of Stockholm and live to fight another day.
He didn't do much except stand there. Nevertheless, Latifi went the distance as a titanic underdog and might have even helped save this card from extinction.
Latifi even landed a couple of shots, so that was kind of awesome. It would have been nice to see him at least try a few more takedowns, given that he's an international-level grappler, but it's OK. By going the full three rounds, he surpassed most expectations. And in taking the fight on less than one week's notice, he stepped up even as he put himself at a clear disadvantage.
For that, Latifi earned my respect. Personally, I'd like to see him get another shot in the UFC.
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