UFC on Fuel 9 is in the books, kicking off four consecutive weekends filled with UFC cards. The worker in me has been dreading April for a long time, but the fan in me loves this schedule—especially when they're international events that begin early on a Saturday. That's nice.
The UFC's return to Sweden was a snakebitten card from the moment that main event fighter Alexander Gustafsson was forced to pull out earlier this week. Luckily, Ilir Latifi—an unknown training partner of Gustafsson—volunteered to step in, and the world still got to see the debut of Gegard Mousasi.
Would Mousasi give them a reason to care?
Gegard Mousasi vs. Dan Henderson/Rashad Evans Winner
Going into this fight, I wanted to slot Mousasi in against Lyoto Machida or perhaps even Alexander Gustafsson upon his return.
But after seeing Mousasi dominant yet unable to put a true hurting on extreme late replacement Ilir Latifi, I'm not sure "The Dreamcatcher" is ready or deserving of a top contender. Instead of perhaps needing one win to jump into contention, Mousasi needs two. In my mind, anyway.
Mousasi said he wants to take a long vacation after his trip to Sweden, so I'd give him what he wants and have him wait for the winner of the June bout between Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans. If he wins that fight, then he's deserving of a fight with Machida or Gustafsson, if the Swede stays on his current course.
This is not to say that Mousasi was terrible. He was never in danger, unless you consider the end of the fight with Latifi on top of him to be true "danger." But this was a chance for Mousasi to show what he could do against an inferior opponent, and he didn't live up to his billing. I still think he will in the future, however, and I'm interested to see what the UFC does with him next.
Ross Pearson vs. Danny Castillo
For a little while, it looked like Ryan Couture was going to befuddle Ross Pearson and score a major upset victory. But then Pearson finally caught up to the elusive Natural the Younger and put him away.
Pearson likely struggled with pursuing Couture due to what he believed was a broken foot, suffered when he threw his first kick during warmups backstage. But he got the job done regardless.
For his next bout, I'd like to see Pearson face Danny Castillo, who rebounded from a loss by beating Paul Sass in his last fight. Pearson is a bigger star than Castillo, but both are in similar places in their careers. And it's an interesting stylistic matchup, with Castillo the wrestler against Pearson the striker. I'd watch it.
Matt Mitrione vs. Todd Duffee
Matt Mitrione won the award for best UFC on Fuel 9 post-fight interview with his clever "use Chris Lytle as translator" ruse and his call for everyone in the arena to punch his "fat friend" in the face.
As far as the fight itself, well, I'm not sure what to say. He knocked out Phil De Fries, but I'm not sure how. It looked as though De Fries hit the back of his head on the canvas while falling after colliding with Mitrione, which gave Mitrione enough of an opening to unleash some hellacious ground-and-pound to score the win.
Diego Brandao vs. Akira Corassani
Akira Corassani didn't have the UFC on Fuel 9 impact of former The Ultimate Fighter teammate Diego Brandao—he didn't finish his fight, while Brando scored an arm triangle over Pablo Garza—but he won just the same. And it was a tough win, considering that Corassani was considered a 3-to-1 underdog by the time the bell rang.
All told, it was a good night for both Corassani and Brandao. And that—the timing and the fact that both of them won on the same night—is one reason I'd pair them up in their next fight.
It's not the only reason, obviously. The backstory of Brandao and Corassani serving as teammates under TUF coach Michael Bisping makes things even more interesting. And, let's face it: Neither guy is any position to rush up the card. Pitting them against each other makes the kind of matchmaking sense that Joe Silva likes.
Brad Pickett vs. T.J. Dillashaw
Brad Pickett's fight with Mike Easton was everything I thought it would be. Actually, it was a lot better than I thought it'd be, if I'm telling the truth. When it was over and Pickett had been declared the winner, I filed it away in my list of potential Fight of the Year (as well as Round of the Year for that exhilarating second round) candidates.
It was technical and fun, and Pickett displayed a much more well-rounded game than we're used to seeing from him. It worked against a flat-footed and plodding Easton, but I'll be even more intrigued to see how he fares against competition that doesn't make things so easy on him (in terms of style) when he next steps into the cage.
That's why I like a bout with T.J. Dillashaw next, provided that Dillashaw gets past Hugo Viana at UFC on Fox in two weeks. Dillashaw lost his initial UFC bout to John Dodson, but he's been on a tear ever since. With a win over Viana, he'll be ready to face someone with a bigger name who presents a bigger challenge.
Pickett fits the bill perfectly. He'll be a good litmus test to find out where Dillashaw is at in his career arc. And if Pickett can beat Dillashaw, he will also be deserving of bigger and better competition.