When an event loses the most anticipated tilt on the card less than a week from fight night, ordinary expectations are thrown out the window.
The news of Alexander Gustafsson's cut and the Swedish Mixed Martial Arts Federation's refusal to clear him to fight Gegard Mousasi put a negative spotlight on UFC on Fuel TV 9. The situation worsened when "The Mauler" was replaced by his training partner Ilir Latifi, and "The Armenian Assassin" had four days to prepare to face a relatively unknown opponent in his highly anticipated UFC debut.
While the UFC's second journey to Sweden had appeared to be cursed, the action that went down Saturday from the Ericsson Globe Arena once again showed how an overlooked card can deliver on all fronts.
Although the event in Stockholm was thin on high-profile fights and names recognizable by the casual fan, these factors didn't stop the fighters from putting on a show. The event provided the good, the bad and even a dose of the strange for good measure.
Let's take a look at what went down at UFC on Fuel TV 9.
Outside of the chaos surrounding the main event, the running theme was the all-important UFC debut. Many fighters over the years have found success competing in different MMA organizations but struggled when they traded leather for the first time on the sport's biggest stage in the UFC.
In a rare occurrence due to the last-minute change of opponent, the main event featured two fighters who were both stepping into the Octagon for the first time.
Latifi had the chance of a lifetime. "The Sledgehammer" not only picked up a UFC contract but was given the chance to knock off a ranked opponent in the light heavyweight division.
This scenario made the bout risky for Mousasi, but much like the Dutch-Armenian's nonplussed demeanor, he handled the fight—and the circumstances at hand—with cold, calculated precision.
For 15 minutes, Mousasi took care of business as he flick-jabbed Latifi back into obscurity. While the victory will not catapult the 27-year-old into the title picture, leaving Sweden with a win will allow Mousasi to keep his place in the Top 10 rankings at 205 pounds, where a loss would have been disastrous.
While Mousasi's debut may have lacked drama, Conor McGregor gave a first impression that will keep the MMA world talking for the next several days.
A solid buzz surrounded the Irish featherweight's first showing under the UFC banner, and he delivered in brutal fashion. "Notorious" badgered Marcus Brimage with heavy shots en route to a 67-second knockout victory in the first round of their tilt on the undercard in Stockholm.
The victory announced McGregor's arrival to the UFC and will most likely earn the heavy-handed Irishman a marquee opponent in his next outing.
Outside of the collection of competitors making their debuts at UFC on Fuel TV 9, several other fighters had solid showings in Stockholm. Diego Brandao showed composure and patience with a first-round submission victory over Pablo Garza. The win over "The Scarecrow" marks back-to-back victories for the 25-year-old and makes him successful in five of his last six outings.
Brad Pickett fought his way back into the win column by besting Mike Easton in the event's best scrap. "One Punch" came out on top of the judge's scorecards, earning a split-decision victory over "The Hulk." The win over the Team Alliance fighter was a solid rebound for Pickett after he had come up short against Eddie Wineland at UFC 155.
While the ending was as strange as endings come, Matt Mitrione's victory over Phil De Fries pulled his head off the chopping block for the time being. The win halted the former NFL defensive tackle's two-fight skid and will ensure "Meathead" lives to see another day under the UFC banner.
For a card that could have taken the fast route down the drain, there wasn't a lot of bad.
The one glaring point came in how the card was put together. While the event delivered action, the drama surrounding Gustafsson's removal highlighted the lack of star power. A solid co-main would have mitigated the chaos.
This is what should have happened in a perfect world: Gustafsson goes out. The bout with Mousasi is kept intact and moved to a later date. And the co-main event is bumped up to the headlining slot.
With Ross Pearson and Ryan Couture sitting in the co-main event slot, this wasn't a suitable option, and the UFC was forced to match up Mousasi with an unknown replacement in Latifi.
In terms of bad performances, the one competitor who comes to mind is Michael Johnson. After putting together a solid three-fight win streak, "The Menace" suddenly finds himself with his back against the wall. Despite getting off to a good start against Reza Madadi, the Blackzilians fighter couldn't hold off the "Mad Dog's" comeback and was submitted in the third round.
The loss to Madadi makes it back-to-back losses for Johnson and puts the 26-year-old in an unenviable position. The lightweight division is one of the most competitive weight classes, and one more loss could result in a pink slip for Johnson.
While it's difficult to imagine, the strangest thing about this event had nothing to do with the merry-go-round main event shuffle. Phil De Fries ran away with the honors at UFC on Fuel TV 9.
Like his heavyweight counterpart, the British submission specialist was in a must-win situation coming into Sweden. Unfortunately for the Team Alliance fighter, not only did he lose, but he managed to do so in incredibly awkward fashion.
After his first attempt to shoot for Mitrione's legs failed, De Fries wasted no time in trying another takedown. But on his second attempt, a collision with Mitrione's hips knocked De Fries for a loop and left him lying helpless on the canvas. With his opponent dazed, Mitrione pounced, unleashing a flurry of shots to earn the TKO victory.
While replays show De Fries might have been caught by a short right hand on the way in, the bizarre ending did him zero favors where his employment is concerned. De Fries has now dropped two of his last three showings by way of knockout, with his only recent victory coming against Oli Thompson at UFC on Fox 4 last August.
Despite the odd turn of events affecting the headlining bout, Mitrione's knockout over De Fries was still the strangest thing to happen in Sweden.
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