Fan favourite Ilir Latifi (13-5) is back in action this weekend on the main card of UFC on FOX 28. In Orlando, Fl. the Sledgehammer meets Ovince Saint Preux (22-10) in a bout that might put the popular fighter into title contention.
Latifi last fought at September’s UFC 215 in Edmonton, Alberta. There he faced-off with rising light heavyweight talent Tyson Pedro. Before the fight you could find Latifi at +125 odds with some bookmakers, who were favouring the then undefeated Australian prospect.
But despite his underdog status Latifi bossed the contest with Pedro; connecting on all but one takedown attempt and maintaining over 7 minutes of control (versus Pedro’s 4 seconds). The end result was a clear unanimous decision victory.
“It was a good fight,” announced Latifi when chatting with Bloody Elbow. “I dominated every round. I took the fight wherever it went and I dominated; standing and on the ground. So it felt good. It was nice.”
Latifi said it was also nice to be competing after a long break from the sport. Prior to the Pedro fight, Latifi had been out for a year after a stoppage defeat to Ryan Bader. Injuries prolonged Latifi’s time out and he didn’t want to rush himself back to competition until completely healed.
“Usually I fight pretty often,” said Latifi. “Before that I did three or four fights every year. Everything depends on how your body is feeling. If you have injuries or if you need time to heal. You have to listen to your body if you want to have a long and successful career.”
Latifi’s loss to Bader, coupled with the year of inactivity, might be why he was overlooked by some in the Pedro match-up. Another reason for the odds could have been the excitement generated around Pedro who, like many young and untested light heavyweights, was being heralded as a potential noise-maker in the veteran stacked upper rankings.
“Yeah, I heard a lot of talk,” said Latifi when asked whether he felt he was being underestimated versus an opponent with only two UFC fights on his record. “Tyson; he’s a young and talented fighter. There was a hype train around him for sure, but I made my statement too, coming into that fight; that top ten fighters are another level of fighters. I made that statement clear.”
Latifi, who is ranked eighth, will get another chance to prove he can hang within that elite level of fighters versus Saint Preux, who currently holds the fifth spot in the rankings.
“OSP’s been around a while. He’s fought all the best guys. He’s very experienced as a fighter. He comes into fights and brings it all. So it’s a great opportunity and a great challenge. I’m looking forward to it.”
Latifi believes a win over Saint Preux will get him into the top five, making him “very close to the title.” However, anyone hoping to get a title shot at 205lbs will have to wait awhile.
Last month, after Daniel Cormier defended his crown versus Volkan Oezdemir, it was announced that he would face UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title at UFC 226 this July. And it doesn’t seem like DC is going to vacate his light heavyweight belt any time soon.
“I mean, moving up to heavyweight for the title, of course it’s interesting, to see two different divisions meeting,” said Latifi when asked his take on the situation atop his division. “But at the same time, what we’ve seen these last couple of years now is people, in a way, freezing the weight class by moving weights or not defending the belt. So in a way it makes things a little more complicated right now for the division, but I think in time that will work out. I don’t think it’s going to be something long-term.”
“We don’t want this situation to be too long,” continued Latifi. “Hopefully it can work as usual and then guys are fighting for the title in the division that they should.”
Whether Latifi will fight for a title depends greatly on what happens this Saturday night. You can watch Ovince Saint Preux vs. Ilir Latifi on the main card of UFC on FOX: Emmett vs. Stephens, live on FOX beginning at 8pm ET.