Ilir Latifi has been one of the strongest and most durable fighters in the UFC, and has yet to challenge for a title. But after recent developments, he wants to change all of that with a bid for UFC gold.
After a spectacular submission victory over Ovince Saint Preux earlier this year, he respectfully called out Daniel Cormier (who was seated cageside on commentary duty). Now Cormier is complicating the title picture for two divisions at once, and Latifi is adamant about getting the next crack at that title.
Latifi was kind enough to provide some of his time to grant Bloody Elbow an exclusive interview, in which he discusses the state of the two heaviest divisions now that one man has both belts, and his intentions to get one of them for himself.
Victor Rodriguez: To start, I want to know what you made of Daniel Cormier’s recent comments after you called him out again on Twitter recently.
Ilir Latifi: He knows it’s a tough fight for him, so he’s trying to drag out the time as long as he can and hold these two belts and do what he’s doing right now: doing a lot of TV stuff and commentary. Maybe make that Brock (Lesnar) fight that doesn’t really have a part in the MMA world, you know? That’s... those things are, in a way, working in the opposite way for the sport, I think. Because the money fights should be the fights with the best fighters, not some show wrestler. Imagine that in some other sport — like in golf, or tennis? It doesn’t make sense. No way. That’s why we have ranking systems. We rank the fighter. I don’t make those rankings. Those rankings don’t lie. The best fighters should fight the best.
VR: Well, in your situation you’re currently ranked at #3. Corey Anderson is also campaigning for that fight against Cormier, and he’s at #6. Oezdemir (#2)appears to be out of commission for the immediate foreseeable future due to a recent injury, and the same can be said for your teammate Alexander Gustafsson (#1). You seem to have a very strong case for that title shot. Do you think there’s anything missing? Anything extra that needs to be done?
IL: No! There’s nothing missing. I’m ranked #3, he fought the two other guys, that’s the first thing. And my record says it all, with my finishes. I’ve been active, you know? What more can I say? Stylistically, it’s a great fight. We’re the same kind of fighter. You know, it’s gonna be action. But I know. I know why he doesn’t want it, because it’s gonna be hard. That’s why. It’s easy to make some money fight against Brock. I have nothing against money fights, but then let the people that want to fight for the championship belt, for the pride and honor of the sport do that. Because you’re holding up two divisions, light heavyweight and heavyweight. The other guys, they’re in line. There are other good contenders at heavyweight that don’t get the shot that are working for that title. Now Brock steps in there, hasn’t fought in two years and tested positive, and gets the shot. Come on.
VR: You’ve made the case that you want to fight him in November at Madison Square Garden. What significance does New York have for you? Why specifically there?
IL: Look, it’s like the center of world entertainment. I have an amazing fanbase there. I promise you, if I fight in Madison Square Garden for the title, you’re gonna have a crowd that you’ve never seen before in a UFC show. I have a lot of support, due to my Albanian heritage. Over half a million Albanians live in the area and they’re extremely supportive in this sport and in my journey. It would be an amazing event fighting in the UFC for the belt.
VR: You mentioned Brock Lesnar — unfortunately, he did in fact test positive for banned substances and according to the USADA regulations it appears he won’t be cleared to fight until around January. Cormier wants to retire in March. So we have the rest of this year and then a brief window of early 2019 for a fight between you and Cormier to happen. Is there anything you think could prevent a fight between you two between now and then?
IL: You know, I want this fight and I’m there. The only thing that can prevent it is he doesn’t want it because it’s gonna be hard for him. He knows, I told him: two rounds. Two rounds with him.
VR: Two? That’s very confident.
IL: I’m very confident.
VR: May I ask why two rounds?
IL: Because I know what I’m capable of, and I’ve been developing my skills. I’m developing all the time, looking better and better.
VR: One final question: We just saw Anthony Smith put on a really impressive performance finishing Shogun. How do you feel about the possibility that maybe he might get the next title shot, seeing as he’s got a little more momentum and a more recent win?
IL: I mean, he’s been doing good, but he fought Shogun. Shogun hasn’t fought for two years. Shogun is not Champ Shogun, or what he was. So it doesn’t say so much. Fighting somebody and saying “yeah, I beat him“ — yeah, you beat him, but that was the old him. Fight someone who’s in his peak and then we’ll see, you know?
VR: One last thing, Ilir: If Daniel Cormier is reading this, do you have a message for him?
IL: Just get ready. In November, let’s get it on. I’m here. I’m ready. This is the fight that’s gotta happen.