Saturday’s Ultimate Fighting Championship event at the Ericsson Globe Arena here, could well see two fairytales scripted or conversely, two careers destroyed.
Until a fortnight back, Sweden’s Ilir Latifi was the training partner of top UFC fighter and compatriot Alexander ‘The Mauler’ Gustafsson, who was scheduled to face experienced MMA fighter, Gegard Mousasi in what was supposed to be the feature fight of the night.
The winner would be one fight away from the light heavyweight championship fight. However, as fate would have it, Gustafsson suffered a cut above his eye and the Mixed Martial Arts Commission here has ruled him out of this fight, and fellow Swede Latifi has got his chance of a lifetime. Though this fight is technically inconsequential as there is no title fight opportunity at stake now, there is a reputation to be earned and one to be safeguarded too.
Though this is Mousasi’s UFC debut too, given his striking abilities he is being touted as the hot favourite to win. However, Latifi, who began his career as a wrestler, will rely on his grappling ability to bring down his six-foot-one Iranian opponent. “Mousasi is a good fighter and strikes hard but I have my style too.
I will fight in my style, wrestle him down and see how it goes. I realise that I can make a name for myself here and will give my 100 per cent in trying to achieve that,” Latifi told MiD DAY yesterday.
Gary Cook, managing director & executive vice-president of UFC Europe, Middle East and Africa, felt Latifi will enjoy some vociferous home support just like Gustaffson did when UFC came here the first time last year.
Mousasi meanwhile looked a tad disinterested in the whole affair when he turned up for the open workout session on Wednesday. “Only I have something to lose in this fight. There’s nothing to gain in it for me, so I have to be watchful,” he said. The other prominent Saturday night fight will be the lightweight bout between England’s Ross ‘The Real Deal’ Pearson and another debutant Ryan Couture of the USA.
Ryan is the son of UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, one of the legends in the sport. In fact, Randy has been training and overseeing Ryan’s preparation as he enters UFC, even though he will not sit in the official corner during his bouts.
“I realise that Ross is a fine fighter but I have watched and learnt a lot from my father. I hope I can get it going against Ross,” a rather soft-spoken Ryan said.
Ross meanwhile, is in a bit of a dilemma. While on one hand, he idolises Randy, he now has to beat his hero’s son.
“I have grown up watching Randy fight and I think he is unbelievable. I worship him for all that he has achieved in the world of MMA. He was a fantastic fighter and now I am up against his son. This one will definitely be special because while I respect Randy, I will have to treat Ryan differently once he steps out in front of me. Ryan’s got better height (5’10”) and reach than me (5’8”), but I’ve got some very hard punches and kicks,” said Ross.
Looks like Saturday night is all set to be a fairytale or a fiery tale for Latifi and Couture!