When I think about the things I miss most from the days of "The PRIDE Era" it is the seemingly random decisions, or decisions based on some bizarre, impossible-to-follow line of thinking that allowed an unknown to burst onto the scene. This was a possibility that existed thanks to the Grand Prix formats forcing lesser-thought-of fighters into bouts with "top seeds" in early rounds, or the "what-the-hell?" style matchmaking that put a guy like Sokoudjou in the ring with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and set the stage for the 16-to-1 underdog to score the shocking knockout.
These are situations that are exceedingly rare in the UFC. In nearly every case the intention of UFC booking is for the best to fight the best in what are, in theory, as even of match-ups as can be expected.
While the UFC has had last minute injury replacements that have allowed for those shocking results -- Houston Alexander knocking out Keith Jardine* and Charlie Brenneman decisioning Rick Story leap to mind -- there has really never been anything like today's main event between Gegard Mousasi and Ilir Latifi.
Dave Meltzer keyed in on a few of the odd things about the fight in his recent column over on MMA Fighting: when the fight opened with Mousasi the -2000 favorite -- it's down to a mean of roughly -1150 -- these were the widest odds for a UFC main event ever, and it is only the fourth time the two men headlining a UFC card were both making their debut in the promotion. Two of the previous three cards were UFC 1 and UFC 3 and the other was a TUF Finale.**
Mousasi has been around long enough that he's at least "known" to the MMA crowd via his time in Strikeforce, including a stint as champion, but you're fooling yourself if you think more than maybe three percent of the UFC's target audience had ever heard the name Ilir Latifi before he was announced as replacement.
Ultimately, the main event is what it is. Mousasi vs. Latifi is the main event because it's going on last, not because there is any demand in any way to see the fight. But it sets up at least the potential for a shocking upset, and there's certainly some fun to be found in that. Even if it's not based on anything resembling what we expect from the UFC.
- There was a realistic chance earlier in the week that Ryan Couture could headline a UFC card. That almost might have been harder to believe than Ilir Latifi. It would have been pretty funny given Dana White spending part of the day prior once again calling Ryan's dad an "all around bad guy." Ryan remains in the co-main event slot against Ross Pearson in a fight in which it would seem he has no business being competitive. Since losing to Matt Ricehouse going on two years ago Couture has gone on a four fight win streak, looking improved, but only his TKO of Conor Heun was truly decisive, the other three wins being either split or majority decisions.
But Couture is rugged and has a workmanlike style that makes things hard on opponents, even if they beat him (as it seemed clear KJ Noons did in their fight), they aren't able to look good doing it. I would be shocked if Couture won the fight, but not shocked when Pearson has to work for it.
- Given the stories I've spent the majority of my time over the last month working on, I found it interesting that Lloyd Irvin decided to tie Mike Easton's name into his gym again through the press release machine he uses to improve his search engine presence. Using lines like "Despite heavy criticism surrounding his coach and team, Mike Easton has continued to represent Team Lloyd Irvin, although he spent this fight camp in San Diego training with Dominick Cruz, Eric Del Fierro and Alliance MMA." I know that Easton is the lone "name" TLI holdout, but having his name closely tied to that scandal in press releases would seem...undesirable.
Moving past his TLI relationship, I'm looking forward to Easton taking on Brad Pickett in a fight that could very well be the best of the card. They match up in compelling ways and Tim Burke really nailed it in the staff picks when he mentioned that Easton fights to the level of his opposition. Easton might get outclassed in the end, but there's a good chance that he finds an extra gear that produces some fireworks.
- Speaking of potential Fight of the Night winners, Diego Brandao and Pablo Garza should be a thriller. Brandao can do some really interesting things offensively and Garza may be the best kind of opponent for him, both in terms of producing excitement and in being a perfect foe to knock out. Garza is reckless and there to be hit and Brandao is there to do the hitting.
- The more I write about it, the more trouble I'm having wrapping my head around the card. There are things to be excited about, but there are also a lot of mismatches and nonsense that might provide for brief moments of excitement that often get represented as "great." When Tor Troeng bludgeons Adam Cella it will provide a momentary rush of excitement, but does it mean anything? Isn't it weird to ramp up to a fight involving a guy most of us have never seen compete? Will people go to the cliched "it's always the cards you don't expect to be good" line if there are a few exciting finishes? Or...will this actually be the rare card where that's true instead of just a line to make it seem like you should never skip a show you don't feel compelled to watch?
* This is the part where I remind you that I predicted the Alexander KO of Jardine. And then I ask you to disregard years of other awful upset predictions.
** As was pointed out in the comments, Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche was a bout between people making their UFC debuts as well. That was an obviously weird circumstance with someone also being crowned UFC champion before they had fought in the UFC and it was a big mainstream attraction.