With the subtraction of Alexander Gustafsson the main event of the UFC of Fuel 9 now features two fighters that UFC fans may or may not be familiar with in Gegard Mousasi (33-3-2) and Ilir Latifi (7-2). Now if you follow any MMA outside of the UFC you've likely heard of Mousasi who, despite being only 26, already has a storied career.
In 2006 Mousasi emerged from the Europe scene to take part in the Pride Welterweight Grand Prix, where he was eliminated in the Quarterfinals, but he beat Hector Lombard in the Alternate bout. In 2008 he won the Dream Middleweight Grand Prix to become the 185 lb Champion, Mousasi then won the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title, which he lost to Muhammed Lawal in 2010. Since then Mousai is 5-0-1 fighting in both Strikeforce and Dream. Mousasi has had a good deal of hype around him for his well rounded skill set, relative youth, and spending much of his career training alongside Fedor Emelianenko.
While Latifi might seem like a complete unknown, he is actually a fairly well regarded fighter locally. MMA Viking, a website devoted to all things Scandinavian MMA, rankings Latfif as the #2 Nordic Light Heavyweight. Born in Sweden, Latifi has been involved Greco-Roman since the age of six. He has been fighting professionally since 2008 and is riding a three fight win streak coming into his short notice match with Mousasi.
Now that you know the basics of both fighters, lets look at how they match up:
Mousasi is a skilled striker with excellent individual strikes. He has a very stiff jab, and good straight punches. Mousasi is very experienced in boxing, having won amateur championships in the Netherlands, and he considered trying for the 2012 Summer Games in boxing. He has good power in his hands and is accurate with his punches as well.
Mousasi has very heavy kicks, including the strong leg kicks he used to break down Mike Kyle in his final Strikeforce match. He has competed in professional kickboxing as well and can mixed together kicks with punches well. Defensively Mousasi is solid, defending his chin well, using footwork to avoid punishment and then countering hard. If there is something to nitpick about Mousasi's striking it is that his offensive footwork tends to degrade to more following his opponent than cutting him off.
Latifi on the other hand has some serious holes in his striking game. While it has been improving from his early career, he still is very rudimentary on the feet. Latifi tends to throw single strikes or maybe a jab-cross but his punches are wide, and normally telegraphed. He does throw the odd kick, but normally sticks to wining punches and then looking to clinch. He will strike in the clinch, sticking mainly to wide punches.
Defensively, Latifi moves straight back and ducks his head when in trouble, both bad habits and against an experienced striker like Mousasi the could be costly. Much of Latifi's striking defense is avoiding striking all together and initiating grappling.
The clinch match up here should be the most interesting dynamic of this fight as both fighters come from backgrounds of strong clinch grappling. Latifi's Greco-Roman wrestling experience means he has quite of bit of experience working in a no gi clinch, while Mousasi's judo background gives him a strong array of sweeps, trips, and takedowns.
I see the clinch battle as going one of two ways, either Latifi is able to stalemate Mousasi from the clinch, or the lower body attacks of Mousasi takes the fight to the ground. Now Latifi is no stranger to double leg takedowns and trips, but Mousasi has a long track record of grappling success in MMA.
If Mousasi is able to take Latifi down, he will get to showcase likely his best skill, ground striking. Mousasi has prestigious power on the ground, having learned very well from Fedor, the Grandmaster of Ground-and-Pound. On top Mousasi keeps up a relentless attack with punches, positional advancement, and submission offense.
If the specter of the Lawal fight rears its ugly head, and Latifi is able to use his wrestling to get Mousasi to the ground, the fight is far from over. Off his back Mousasi has shown good sweeping and submission skills. Latifi may be able to sit in Mousasi's guard but he is no danger to pass or damage Mousasi from there.
How They Match Up
Honestly, this one should be Mousasi in a blow out. But if there is one big critique of Mousasi, it is that while he is very skilled in the competent arts of MMA, sometimes his skill set is less than the sum of its parts. Mousasi rarely seems to have a plan heading into fights and sometimes will fight to his detriment. He will find great success with a strike, like a jab or leg kick, and just suddenly will cease to throw said strike. Against Lawal he showed no urgency to get back to his feet and seemed content to just strike from his back while losing rounds.
The result is while Mousasi can produce some truly highlight moments in fights, he will also have head scratching performances where he barely seems aware of what wins MMA fights. So there is a chance that Latifi catches Mousasi in a strange mental state because of all the chaos leading up to this fight and steal two rounds with his wrestling. Far more likely is Mousasi catching Latifi with some heavy strikes, either standing or on the ground, and then finished the fight.
Fight Prediction: Gegard Mousasi by (T)KO, Round 1.