Coming in, the UFC on Fuel 9 card looked to be in trouble. The removal of Alexander Gustafsson made many worry that this card would be a mess. Some called it no better than a Strikeforce Challengers card, with good reason, and without a marque main event it looked very weak. But, as is so often the case in MMA, looks can be deceiving. While the main event was terrible to watch the rest of the card proved to be quite entertaining.
Most fans seemed quite put off by Gegard Mousasi's showing in the main event against Ilir Latifi, but in reality they shouldn't have been surprised. Yes, his confirmed knee injury likely made Mousasi less dynamic than normal, but a fight like that is not out of character for the young Dutchman. Mousasi is a fighter that is supremely talented and skilled in the component arts of MMA and has made great strides blending them together in an MMA context. The problem is that Mousasi doesn't always seem to have a plan to make maximum use of those skills.
Mousasi established a strong jab, but never really built anything off that, he had some good kicks but abandoned them. He is a supremely gifted ground striker, but doesn't actively seek takedowns. As a result Mousasi has an amazing highlight reel because of his skills, but his fights can be ponderous affairs, and every so often he has a real head-scratcher like this last fight or the Keith Jardine fight.
Lets get on to the other talking points and thoughts:
- Despite all that stuff I just said about Mousasi, I don't blame him at all for how he fought. He was injured, facing a fighter whose still could make his injury far worse, and he needed to win. To me, the biggest concern was his seeming lack of sponsors. Mousasi sat out all of 2012 in the Strikeforce foolishness and is likely hurting for cash. Which is probably why he decided to fight despite being so injured. I hope the UFC takes care of him with some of those locker room checks, despite the rather ho-hum performance.
- Ilir Latifi was totally out of his depth. History dictates the UFC will give him a gratitude fight, but really they shouldn't. Props to him for stepping up but he isn't on this level.
- Ross Pearson might never be a title contender, but he is a great boxer in an MMA context. The punches he dropped Ryan Couture were excellent displays of pugilism.
- No Philip de Fries didn't get knocked out by Matt Mitrione's hip bone. On the replay it appeared that Mitrione caught de Fries with a hook to the back of the head as he was shooting in that was invisible from most camera angles - a phantom punch knock out if you will. Tough break for de Fries and a lucky one for Mitrione.
- Brad Pickett and Mike Easton engaged in a very fun, very technical match. A Fight of the Night worthy engagement, but instead of sloppy brawling fans were treated to technical brilliance. Pickett rightly won the fight, but Mike Easton showed off great skills, something he had not done in a while. Easton is often accused of fighting to the level of his competition, if this is the result of him fighting a Top 5 kind of guy I would like to see it more often.
- Diego Brandao continues to show improvement since coming off TUF. I'm not going to say that he is a future title contender, but could have a decent chance of cracking the Top 10 of his weightclass, something not common of recent TUF products.
- This card had two fantastic comebacks. Reza Madadi came back from getting severly rocked with a head kick to sink a Brabo choke. Then Tom Lawlor locked on a guillotine choke after it appeared he had hurt his knee. Two excellent performances that were the highlights of the under-card.
- Conor McGregor made his UFC debut a memorable one with a very impressive knockout win over Marcus Brimage. McGregor had fans, fighters, and pundits all gushing over his very slick striking. I really hope he has enough ground chops to make a run to contender-ship because I want to see how he stacks up against Featherweight's best.
- One of the sub themes of the under-card to me was the use of Judo. In the early days of MMA judokas were a fairly common sight. Since then, they have disappeared from American MMA almost entirely. Karo Parisyan demonstrated that in modern MMA, even without gi and facing wrestlers, Judo is still highly effective, but it seemed a lesson lost on an entire generation of fighters. Recently we've seen fighters starting to add more Judo to their games as clinch grappling against the cage has become more and more a huge part of the takedown game in MMA. On the under-card fighters used Judo style trip takedowns to get matches to the ground seemingly at will. Even against wrestling base fighters. It is a trend I expect to continue as fighters look to diversify their clinch attacks and takedown game.
- All that said, Papy Abedi's performance seems to embody the criticisms many have of the current rule set in Olympic Judo. While Abedi was able to get Besam Yousef to the ground quite effortlessly at times, once on the ground he didn't have much of an attack. Abedi couldn't really pass guard, and when he tried to stand in guard he did not seem to know how to deal with an open guard. Also, Abedi looked fairly weak defending against the shot takedowns of Yousef. Then, once on his back, Abedi had nothing to offer. Clearly this is not how all, or event most, of Judokas will fair in MMA. Other Judokas and Samboists on the card showed how effective the art can be, but for Abedi it is not a promising sign.
- The Swedish athletic commission still needs some work, between questionable scorecards and very quick stand ups by the refs it was not a great night for the officers of regulation.
- After watching Invcita on Friday, the UFC card seemed to crawl along at a snail's pace. One of the advantages of being on UStream and not television, is that you don't have a time slot you have to fill, so Invicta can send the winner out one door of the cage while they bring in the next fighter in the other. Obviously the UFC cannot do this, but with 13 fight cards looking like they are becoming the rule and not the exception it would be nice to see some change in the pacing of cards to add some speed.