UFC 189 Co-Main Event & Undercard Preview

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Given the relentless hype for the main event, it’s been easy to forget that there is actually an undercard to UFC 189 on Saturday but that undercard would probably be amongst the best PPV cards of the year even if both Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes suddenly got injured.

The co-main event itself is a fight worthy of headlining any MMA card as Robbie Lawler (25-10, 1NC) looks to make the first defence of his UFC Welterweight title against Rory MacDonald (18-2).

Robbie Lawler’s career would make an excellent movie trilogy, all the way from the youthful prodigy through his journeyman years in the wilderness to his triumphant UFC return and title victory.

6-1 since returning to the UFC and dropping back down to Welterweight, Lawler seems to have reached a point in his career where natural talents, coaching, experience and a maturity have moulded him into a complete martial artist where his always dangerous striking is fully in accord with his grappling game, cardio and mentality.

By contrast, Rory MacDonald has seemed like the heir apparent to the welterweight throne for years. A protégé of former champion Georges St-Pierre, it seemed that MacDonald was always the new big thing at 170lbs even as losses to elite fighters Carlos Condit (losing to a late KO after dominating the fight for three rounds) and Lawler (via split decision) checked his progress towards the seemingly inevitable title shot.

Nonetheless, MacDonald rebounded from both losses by becoming a more dangerous, more complete martial artists and in the five years since first tasting defeat in that fight against Condit.

Now, one of the sports most beloved and skilled veterans faces off with one of the preeminent examples of a modern, well rounded, cerebral and above all, professional MMA fighter with the belt on the line. What more could you ask for?

Well, a promoter would ask for one of them to be a bit mouthier and turn a credible sporting contest into a bit more of a media sensation, but a certain Irishman seems to have pegged the market in that field. In any case, for true fans of mixed martial arts as a sport, this is as credible a title matchwith as compelling a sporting narrative as any you are likely to find.

The main card is filled out with a few excellent fights, all of which could be expected to headline a Fight Pass card in their own right. Firstly, a featherweight contest between two guys who are no stranger to ‘of the night’ bonuses and had been on the outer edge of title contention before some recent losses in the shape of Dennis Bermudez (14-4) and Jeremy Stephens (23-11). A win for either man really places them back in the mix.

Next we have two rising welterweight prospects who met defeat in their last bout against experienced opposition as the exciting Brandon Thatch (11-2) meets smooth Icelander, Gunnar Nelson (13-1-1) looking to recover from losses to Benson Henderson and Rick Story respectively. Both are highly regarded by UFC brass, the media and the fans so the winner here could find themselves a win or two from a title shot.

Opening the main card, Brad Pickett (24-10) returns to 135lbs following a disappointing 1-3 run at Flyweight and is rewarded with the dubious honour of facing undefeated prospect Thomas Almeida (18-0). Pickett would be the biggest scalp of Almedia’s career to date, while a win over the impressive youngster would immediately rehabilitate Pickett to his former spot in the top ten of the bantamweight rankings.

The preliminary card also has it’s share of great fights as ‘Immortal’ Matt Brown (19-13) faces the surging Tim Means (24-6-1) and with a hefty 28 knockout wins between them I don’t think anyone is expecting a dull fight…

We’ve also got former Cage Warriors champion Cathal Pendred (17-2-1) looking to impress after a lukewarm start to his UFC career when he faces the ever-game veteran John Howard (22-11) and Neil Seery (15-10)continues his UFC fairytale against Louis Smolka (8-1) knowing that a win would likely place him in title contention given the shallow waters in the flyweight division.

For once this is a card which actually seems worth staying up late for so let’s hope it lives up to the hype.

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Post UFC London Matchmaking

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Now, if I had the best job in the world…

The Winners

Alexander Gustafsson – Gus has been promised and deserves a crack at the winner of Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira, even if Jones is continually trying to distance himself from such a match.

Don’t be scared, homie.

Michael Johnson – His win over Melvin Guillard advances him to 3-0 but most of the fighters ranked ahead if him are either booked, in dispute with the company (Nate Diaz) or on the long term injured list (TJ Grant.)

Ross Pearson has tentatively called Johnson out, but a timetable for his return has not yet been confirmed.

Any of these three would be good fights but for expedience sake, I’d throw Johnson back in as soon as possible against Abel Trulljo, fresh off his concussive win over Jamie Varner.

Brad Pickett – there is a big call for Pickett to get the next title shot at Demetrious Johnson which makes sense as he is one of the bigger names at Flyweight and has a win over the champion from their days at 135lbs.

However despite my unabashed fandom for Brad, I’m minded to think Ali Baguatinov has earned the shot (and him vs. Mighty Mouse would be a great headliner for UFC Istanbul later in the year) and Pickett could do with a 2-0 streak at 125lbs.

So, a summer bout against original opponent Ian McCall or fellow victor Louis Gaudinot would make a lot of sense for Brad, should he not get the title shot.

Gunnar Nelson – Gunni has earned a crack at a bigger name and with much of the division booked up, I’d like to see him in with Mike Pyle, which is a solid PPV main card bout and a true test of Gunni’s top ten credentials.

Ilir Latifi – a confident disposal of Cyrille Diabate earns Latifi and upgrade of opponent with someone like Rafael Cavalcante, James te Huna or even Ryan Bader all good opponents, depending on when & where Latifi is next booked to fight.

Luke Barnatt – undefeated and on a streak of knockout wins, Barnatt is rising up the rankings and deserves a bout against a name contender to see if he’s top ten class. There are plenty if options with Gegard Mousasi, Francis Carmont and Tim Boetsch all suitable opponents depending if Barnatt is next fighting in Europe or the US.

Claudio Henrique da Silva – A contentious decision win doesn’t do you too many favours in the UFC (especially when Dana tweets that he thinks it’s the wrong call) and I think da Silva might well be compelled to travel again rather than getting a home fight in. Brazil with European middleweights Magnus Cedenblad or Krzysztof Jotko being good opponents for the upcoming cards in Sweden or Berlin.

Igor Araujo – a good display against Danny Mitchell could earn Araujo a fight with Nico Musoke in Sweden or a home bout in Brazil, maybe against someone like Stephen Thompson or Brandon Thatch.

Louis Gaudinot – subbing Phil Harris in the first round is no mean feat and Gaudinot is again a top ten contender at Flyweight. I wouldn’t mind seeing him face Brad Pickett or Ali Baguatinov next, getting the spare of whoever doesn’t get the title shot. Failing that, welcoming Vaughan Lee to flyweight would likely be a fun fight.

The Losers

Jimi Manuwa – to his credit Manuwa hung with the #2 light heavyweight in the world before Gustafsson went through the gears and his entertaining style will keep him in featured match territory. A match against the loser of Phil Davis vs. Anthony Johnson could give him the chance to immediately reinsert himself into top ten contention or a less challenging bout against James te Huna or Vinny Magalhaes could be used to possibly rehabilitate his aura.

Melvin Guillard – a tepid performance after a lot of trash talk does you no favours and Guillard finds himself on a 2-5, 1 NC run since having his big win streak was snapped by Joe Lauzon in 2011. If he wasn’t usually good value for entertainment, he’d likely be looking at being cut. At best, he’s looking at a bout against Gleison Tibau or Piotr Hallman in Brazil or Berlin.

Neil Seery – a creditable performance against a top fighter, combined with his Irishness should earn Seery a featured bout on the summer’s Dublin card with Phil Harris being the close option or a match against John Lineker being almost guaranteed fireworks.

Omari Akhmedov – getting subbed by Gunnar Nelson is little to be ashamed of but Akhmedov’s previously impressive record is in need of a buffing. Perhaps a return to Middleweight to face Mats Nilsson or Brad Scott could be an ideal or sticking at 170lbs someone like Bobby Voelker or Mike Rhodes would be a fair bout.

Cyrille Diabate – Cyrille has retired, so won’t be looking for another match.

Mats Nilsson – the Swede showed some quality against Barnatt, but it was always going to be a tough ask to counter his reach and take the fight to a grappling place. Nilsson should get another go round, possibly on home soil in Sweden. I’d actually really like to see Mats against someone like Tom Watson or even Brad Scott.

Brad Scott – the fact that Dana White thinks you won your fight is a good sign and Scott should get a decent match next time out. I’ve already suggested Mats Nilsson, but the likes of Stanislav Nedkov or Alessio Sakara are more than possible.

Danny Mitchell – Mitchell was game as ever but was beaten on the ground by Araujo and the laughable striking display towards the end of the fight won’t have helped. Mitchell could easily be fighting for his place on the roster next time out. A fight against Pascal Krauss on the Berlin card could work for both men and should be a fun fight.

Phil Harris – A 1-3 run in the UFC isn’t a good thing for job security but the shallow nature of the Flyweight division could well give Harris another chance. A featured bout against Neil Seery in Dublin could be plausible or a bout against anyone from Iliarde Santos to Richie Vaculik in Brazil or Australia could be on the cards. I doubt Billy will care, so long as he gets another chance.

MAIN CARD

Alexander Gustafsson def. Jimi Manuwa via TKO (knee and punches) – Round 2, 1:18
Michael Johnson def. Melvin Guillard via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Round 3, 5:00
Brad Pickett def. Neil Seery via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Round 3, 5:00
Gunnar Nelson def. Omari Akhmedov via submission (guillotine) – Round 1, 4:36

PRELIMINARY CARD

Ilir Latifi def. Cyrille Diabate def. submission (neck crank) – Round 1, 3:02
Luke Barnatt def. Mats Nilsson def. TKO (strikes) – Round 1, 4:24
Claudio Henrique da Silva def. Brad Scott def. unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) – Round 3, 5:00
Igor Araujo def. Danny Mitchell def. unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) – Round 3, 5:00
Louis Gaudinot def. Phil Harris def. submission (guillotine) – Round 1, 1:13

The Good, The Bad & the Ugly: UFC London Edition

You know how this works by now…

The Good:

The action throughout was of a high quality but the undoubted high points have to be the standout performances by Alexander Gustafsson and Gunnar Nelson, with the compelling bouts between Pickett/Seery and da Silva/Scott and big wins for Ilir Latifi, Luke Barnatt and Louis Gaudinot.

The new announce team of John Gooden and Dan Hardy did a fine job, offering informative and engaging commentary while not stepping on the action or indulging in self aggrandisation – a rare and special feat in terms of MMA announcing it seems.

A lot of UK cards have felt a tad second rate in the past, headed by bouts that wouldn’t make the main card of a US show but that criticism simply cannot be aimed here. Two number one contenders were decided and some other fighters took big steps towards the top echelons of the divisions.

Even the late replacements to the card were significant with Neil Seery proving a great test for Brad Pickett and really showing his quality (Dana White was vocally impressed, for one thing) while Michael Johnson added to his win streak with plenty to spare against Melvin Guillard.

The Bad:

A strangely lacklustre co-main event where some promising trash talk resulted in a tepid match with long periods of reluctance to engage interspersed with burst of compelling action was a bit disappointing.

Indeed, I don’t recall another match that had several near knockdowns that proved so unsatisfying and unmemorable.

The new EMEA ring announcer (who’s name I’ve forgotten already) wasn’t convincing and I can totally understand the criticism of some US commentators feeling that his delivery made the show seem like a regional level event. Do we not have anyone in the UK who won’t fluff the information given on their cue cards and doesn’t make their ring announcing sound like a pro wrestling bout in a working men’s social club, circa 1982?

In truth, it wasn’t a great night for British fighters as they went 1-4 on the card, with only Luke Barnatt really adding to his stock (I’m not counting Pickett vs. Seery here as it was pretty much a derby fight) but Brad Scott can feel aggrieved at losing the decision in his fight and Manuwa and Mitchell both showed plenty of skills and entertainment value.

The Ugly – this week retitled, The Funny:

Towards the end of the Igor Araujo vs. Danny Mitchell match, the two fighters were locked in a mutual leg lock and with time winding down, they flailed at each other like (admittedly large and strong) toddlers fighting over who gets to play with the toy bricks.

Totally understandable in the circumstances, but visually hysterical nonetheless.

Disclaimer: We watched the whole show on Fight Pass / BT Sport, so didn’t have first hand experience of the Channel 5 offering of the top fights, but by all accounts their broadcast was embarrassingly bad which shouldn’t surprise anyone who witnessed their half assed attempts on BAMMA shows.

If we’d had the UFC chequebook we would have given bonuses to…

Fight of The Night:

It had to be Pickett vs. Seery for sheer competitiveness, quality and variety of action and a sense that the fight mattered. While not quite the OMG spectacle I had built the fight up to be, it still had a bit if everything and I can’t criticise Brad Pickett for doing the sensible thing and taking Seery down to ensure what was a vital win for him.

Performance of the Night #1:

Alexander Gustafsson, who waited till he had Jimi Manuwa’s measure and then ended his undefeated streak almost at will, choosing to turn up the heat midway through the second round and quickly dropping the powerful Englishman. This was exactly the result Gustafsson needed following his razor thin loss to Jon Jones and he is back as #1 contender once again.

Performance of the Night #2:

Gunnar Nelson for handling the very dangerous Omari Akhmedov with his characteristically unhurried style. Nelson has never been one to rush things or look particularly stressed by a situation, but his calm demeanour through the early striking exchanges and his supremely smooth jiujitsu towards the end made a worthy opponent look like a beginner at Mjollnir MMA that Nelson was demonstrating techniques to.

Surely a top ten opponent for Gunnar next, maybe Mike Pyle or the winner of Matt Brown vs. Erick Silva?

Notable mentions go to Ilir Latifi for a good performance and brutal neck crank submission win, Luke Barnatt for a big KO over a very underrated Mats Nilsson and Louis Gaudinot for his party pooper early sub of Phil Harris.

MAIN CARD

Alexander Gustafsson def. Jimi Manuwa via TKO (knee and punches) – Round 2, 1:18
Michael Johnson def. Melvin Guillard via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Round 3, 5:00
Brad Pickett def. Neil Seery via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Round 3, 5:00
Gunnar Nelson def. Omari Akhmedov via submission (guillotine) – Round 1, 4:36

PRELIMINARY CARD

Ilir Latifi def. Cyrille Diabate def. submission (neck crank) – Round 1, 3:02
Luke Barnatt def. Mats Nilsson def. TKO (strikes) – Round 1, 4:24
Claudio Henrique da Silva def. Brad Scott def. unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) – Round 3, 5:00
Igor Araujo def. Danny Mitchell def. unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) – Round 3, 5:00
Louis Gaudinot def. Phil Harris def. submission (guillotine) – Round 1, 1:13

Conflicted Loyalties – One Punch, or 2 Tap?

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Usually, I know exactly who I’m backing in a fight.  Sometimes it’s an easy question with an exciting, likeable fighter from a nation I hold an affinity to facing off against a dull, dislikeable fighter from a nation I don’t but sometimes the equation is more balanced.

Sometimes there will be a fighter who’s style I like but who’s personality I don’t against a polar opposite, a fighter who I might favour for geographic reasons against one who’s style I like better or any sort of combination of factors.

As a rule I favour fighters in the following order of nationality – Scottish, Irish/Welsh, English/Scandinavian, European, Asian, Brazilian, North American – this often has as much to do with underdog status as anything else and can be completely thrown out if I’m a big fan (or not) of the fighter’s personality, skills or style.

Basically, if I’m backing you purely because of your nationality, it’s because I have no strong feelings about you apart from that, which is not a good thing.

However, never have I been as on-the-fence as I am for tonight’s bout between Brad ‘One Punch’ Pickett and Neil ‘2 Tap’ Seery.

I’m a huge fan of both fighters, for their personality, fighting style and the fact that they are both from a similar part of the world to me*.

* I hesitate to say ‘British’ as Seery and most Irish fans wouldn’t like the designation, even if it’s intended as more a geographical than political term, to be used in similar terms to ‘Scandinavian’ – the fact that I am a Scot in favour of Scottish independence, yet quite happy to also self-identify as part of a cultural ‘British’ diaspora (drinking tea, speaking English as a first language etc.) seems to confuse and threaten a lot of people.  Is a desire for self-determination without racism really so hard to understand?

Under normal circumstances, I would pull for Ireland over England (well, I do when they meet in the 6 Nations, it’s a gaelic thing) and the underdog over the established star, but I can’t bring myself to cheer against Pickett, because I like him and my team sports tendency for ‘anyone but England*’ doesn’t extend to MMA, it seems.

* which again, stems more from sheer annoyance at the English sports media and the fact that they are sort of the big dogs around these parts.  

So, I’ll do the sensible thing.  I’ll sit back, watch the match and enjoy the performance of two martial artists that I have massive respect for, cheering and applauding both men.

In a lot of ways, this is something that I love about MMA – it cuts through a lot of the more insidious prejudices that are commonly associated with team sports and at the end of the day, you tend to like or dislike a fighter based on their personality and performances, rather than their country of birth.

Sure, nationality can be a starting point before you get to know the fighter, but it all too quickly becomes a secondary concern for most fans and that’s a really good thing.

Either way, I think this is a lock for our fight of the night and I can’t wait…

Probably The Worst UFC London Preview In The World

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I’m enjoying the build up to this card too much to overanalyse everything so here goes…

This card is stacked with fun fights, but I’m particularly looking forward to the headliner between Alexander Gustafsson & Jimi Manuwa as two European fighters with a penchant for intense striking battles face off with the promise of a title shot on the table. What’s not to love about that?

That said, my pick for fight of the night is the Flyweight contest between Brad Pickett and Neil Seery – two reliably entertaining fighters with a few built in story lines for added value (Pickett’s hunt for a title shot, Seery’s ‘Rocky’ story and the whole England vs. Ireland thing) facing off in a guaranteed barnburner.

Throw in UFC debuts for Danny Mitchell and Mats Nilsson, the fact that every single match (bar the co-main event) will have a an impact on our European rankings and I can’t see any way that Michael Johnson vs. Melvin Guillard and Omar Akhmedov vs. Gunnar Nelson will be dull matches.

I’m also excited to see how the box fresh commentary team of John Gooden and Dan Hardy get on. Gooden has long been one of my favourite announcers and Hardy is easily one of the most engaging figures in MMA, so they should be an excellent partnership.

Our live tweeting will be done from a party (UFC at a civilised hour is a good excuse to gather friends and have a few beverages, no?) and may well include photos and videos of our own merry-making chaos as well as insight on the fights themselves.

We’re gonna have a great night, and we think everyone who attends or tunes in will as well.

Card Information

UFC Fight Night 38: Gustafsson vs. Manuwa
March 8, 2014 | O2 Arena | London, England

MAIN CARD
BT Sport 8 p.m. GMT / UFC Fight Pass, 3 p.m. ET
Channel 5 from 9.45 p.m. GMT for the co-headliners and highlights.

Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jimi Manuwa
Melvin Guillard vs. Michael Johnson
Brad Pickett vs. Neil Seery
Omari Akhmedov vs. Gunnar Nelson

PRELIMINARY CARD
UFC Fight Pass, 12:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m GMT

Cyrille Diabate vs. Ilir Latifi
Luke Barnatt vs. Mats Nilsson
Brad Scott vs. Claudio Henrique da Silva
Roland Delorme vs. Davey Grant
Igor Araujo vs. Danny Mitchell
Louis Gaudinot vs. Phil Harris

UFC Fight Night 26: Shogun vs. Sonnen Preview

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Sat, 17 Aug 2013
Boston, Massachusetts

The first time I wrote a preview for this, it ran to over 3000 words and I ran out of positive adjectives long before I’d finished covering the main card. It lost all impact, so I’m trying again.

Let me put it simply. This is one of the most stacked MMA cards ever put together, never mind limiting it to free TV or the UFC.

All it lacks is a title match (or two) and when it features five legitimate former world champions, a further two fighters who have competed for UFC gold, a clutch of TUF winners and finalists and is composed almost entirely of fighters known for their entertaining fighting style, that seems like a small thing to be missing.

Five of these fights could easily produce the next no.1 contenders in their respective divisions, three fighters here can already account themselves as legends in the sport with half a dozen more either well on the way or certainly with the potential to do so.

I don’t even have the will to break the matches down individually. It’s more than my tiny heart can bear. We have fighters who are notionally strikers and grapplers, but what EVERYONE on this card is, is a damn warrior.

If anyone here embarks on a lay n pray game plan, it will be DEEPLY out of character.

Look at the names below. Shogun Rua. Chael Sonnen. Alistair Overeem. Urijah Faber. Matt Brown. Joe Lauzon. I’m sold already. The real competition is gonna be which one of these studs takes home the most hotly contested Fight of the Night award in living memory…

Let’s not forget that John Howard, Mike Pyle, Uriah Hall and Travis Browne are all well known for bringing it, even if casual fans might struggle to mark the names.

Hell, even the PRELIMINARY card features the best Bantamweight in Europe, Brad Pickett against the last no.1 contender for that division’s title, Michael McDonald.

There’s also the small matter of Connor McGregor’s sophomore UFC box against the impressive Max Holloway, with awesome matches featuring former WEC champ Mike Brown against Steven Siler and TUF winner Diego Brandao facing Daniel Pineda.

It’s even starting a bit earlier than usual, which means there’s a fair chance that a UK fan like me might not pass out midway through the co-main event.

You want stats, background all that usual stuff? Nope. Check on Sherdog if you must but for this card, I just want to sit back and let the sheer joy of being a fan wash over me.

If you ever have a UFC party at your house, if you ever want to nudge a pal or family member to get into this sport – get them in front of the TV for this card.

It is going to be biblical. I guarantee it.

MAIN
• Mauricio Rua vs. Chael Sonnen
• Travis Browne vs. Alistair Overeem
• Yuri Alcantara vs. Urijah Faber
• Matt Brown vs. Mike Pyle
• Uriah Hall vs. John Howard
• Michael Johnson vs. Joe Lauzon

PRELIMINARY
• Michael McDonald vs. Brad Pickett
• Max Holloway vs. Conor McGregor
• Mike Brown vs. Steven Siler
• Diego Brandao vs. Daniel Pineda

PRELIMINARY (Facebook)
• Manny Gamburyan vs. Cole Miller
• Cody Donovan vs. Ovince St. Preux
• Ramsey Nijem vs. James Vick

UFC Sweden 2 (UFC on Fuel TV 9) Preview

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UFC Sweden 2 (UFC on Fuel TV 9) Preview
Sat, 06 Apr 2013
Stockholm, Sweden

Well, after injuries, April Fools taken too far and half the fighters in Europe throwing their hat into the ring, I’ve had to rewrite the first chunk of this preview a half dozen times. Lets go… just don’t anyone else get injured, yeah?

It’s always nice to have live MMA at a reasonable time, and the UFC’s trips to Sweden give those of us in Europe just that. With the main card showing on ESPN at 9pm in the UK, that’s pretty civilised, even if we are enduring a THREE HOUR tape delay to accommodate ESPN’s usual dose of German and Italian football.

Bangs head against wall.

Of course, we’ve got the prelims from 2.30 in the afternoon on Facebook, so that’s nice…

Still, it’s better than usual.

We were expecting a main event featuring Swedish superstar and in my eyes at least, should-be-no.1-contender Alexander Gustafsson but a training injury has ruled ‘The Mauler’ out of his scheduled match with Gegard Mousasi (33-3-2).

Stepping up to the plate at the eleventh hour, is fellow Swedish Light Heavyweight Ilir Latifi (7-2) who rides high in the Nordic rankings and as one of Sweden’s most popular domestic fighters should go some way to making up for the loss of Gustafsson in the eyes of the Swedish fans.

Latifi has a 7-1 record in Sweden and is on a three fight winning streak since dropping a decision to new Bellator tournament champion Emanuele Newton in 2011 and comes in with some momentum, home advantage, surely knowing more about his opponent than Mousasi knows about him and absolutely nothing to lose. That said, he is giving up a lot in terms of experience, preparation and height…

Of course, Gegard Mousasi (who was nice enough to give us an interview in the run up to this fight) isn’t the sort to get unduly ruffled by much, except of course folks who make him believe he’s got a living legend as his next opponent for a full day and then admit to a joke.

No, Mousasi is a former champion in Cage Warriors, DREAM and Strikeforce and aside from his decision loss to Muhammed Lawal in 2010 he’s not tasted defeat since 2006 for a run of 20-1-1.

I’ve been a little disheartened by so called fans who’ve said Mousasi was easy meat for Gustafsson and not UFC calibre, because he’s a well rounded fighter with a total of 29 finishes split between strikes and subs including victories over the likes of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Renato Sobral, Mark Hunt, Ronaldo Souza and Hector Lombard.

Underestimate him at your peril – not that he cares what you think, anyway.

Of course, suddenly Mousasi is a heavy favourite against an opponent casual fans outside Sweden have truly never heard of and the mental balance of the match shifts again.

What to expect? Well, Mousasi is a dangerous and aggressive fighter both on the feet and on his back, who’s mentality has been questioned in the past while Latifi’s stocky frame and well rounded base means he may find success from takedowns and ground and pound, following Lawal’s path to victory.

Then again, Latifi has scored head kick knockouts on opponent’s Mousasi’s size before…

All in all, this match is an example of all that is weird and wonderful about MMA, with a hometown favourite replaced by a hometown underdog and the enigmatic newcomer caught in the middle. Time to repeat a time worn maxim.

ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN MMA.

In the co-main event we have Ross ‘the Real Deal’ Pearson (14-6) fresh off his impressive victory over George Sotiropoulos, welcoming Ryan Couture (6-1) to the UFC in almost surprisingly high profile fashion.

Pearson is a clinical striker with a 6-3 record in the UFC and wins over some varied talent, with only his loss to Cole Miller really denting his momentum. With increasing confidence and maturity, Pearson is looking to re-establish some momentum following some inconsistent form and bad luck with judges. He’s gone on record as saying that Couture isn’t on his level, which is probably fair but never a smart thing to say before a fight.

Couture debuts following a largely impressive run in Strikeforce, although the common wisdom is that he didn’t deserve to win the split decision in his last bout against KJ Noons. A collected fighter who’s greatest strength lies in a well rounded base and good game plans, Couture may have been thrown to the sharks a little bit here as Pearson is likely to pick him apart on the feet and not allow him to settle into whatever his plan may be.

Next up we have a bout between two heavyweights looking to get back in a winning way, with Matt Mitrione (5-2) and Phil DeFries (9-2) squaring off in as typical a striker vs. grappler bout as you are like to find.

Mitrione wins by knockout while DeFries wins by submission, and loses by knockout. Given the way Stipe Miocic and Todd Duffee folded DeFries up, it looks like being a short night for the Sunderland boy unless he can pull ‘Meathead’ in the grappling world where DeFries excels and Mitrione remains untested.

A probably fight of the night contender between Brad Pickett (22-7) and Mike Easton (13-2) comes next, with both men coming off a decision loss, but bizarrely not that far out of the title picture, seeing as how piled up Bantamweight is at the moment.

MMA Math tells us both guys have posted a UD win over Ivan Menjivar in recent years which is absolutely no use, aside from to tell us that they evidently don’t suck.

Hell, it’s top level Bantamweights – don’t blink and prepare to be entertained!

A similar pace is to be expected from the next match as Ultimate Fighter Diego Brandao (16-8) looks to build on his mature performance against Joey Gambino against submission wizard Pablo Garza (12-3) who boasts a marked six inch height advantage.

Brandao is always a fast starter, but tends to gas in later rounds, while Garza uses his length to great effect in both striking and especially submissions. If Brandao gets inside Garza’s reach, this could be over quickly but if Garza can maintain distance (at least until Brandao tires out a bit) and pulls guard, it could be a very different fight.

Rounding off the main card is a bout between two more exciting Featherweights, both coming off memorable wins at last year’s UFC Nottingham.

Robbie Peralta (16-3) scored his second UFC win with a quick knockout of Kumite favourite Jason Young while Akira Corassani (10-3) scored a contentious (we thought he lost) split decision win over fellow TUF alum, Andy Ogle.

Peralta has the definite edge in finishing power, with fourteen stoppages to Corassani’s four and Akira has also shown a slight susceptibility to getting KTFO which is not good facing a striker like Peralta.

The preliminary card for this event is enthralling but I’m only going to focus on one match, however I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to watch all of the prelims as the bouts between Papy Abedi (8-2) and Besam Yousef (6-1), Tom Lawlor (8-5) and Michael Kuiper (12-1) and Michael Johnson (12-7) versus Reza Madadi (12-3) are all plenty interesting.

The prelim that has me really stoked however is the UFC debut of Cage Warriors double champion Conor McGregor (12-2) facing Marcus Brimage (6-1).

We’ve waxed lyrical about McGregor elsewhere but suffice to say that he’s an insanely talented fighter, with a taste for aggressive yet cultured displays of striking.

Brimage has less experience and is remembered as a stand & bang guy from TUF yet has made a run to 3-0 in the UFC, including mature wins against the very talented Maximo Blanco and Jim Hettes.

This one should be a barnburner, don’t miss it.

So clear your itinerary for Saturday, be it morning, afternoon or evening, wherever you are in the world (check listings at http://www.ufc.com if you are unsure) because this card rocks.

Oh, and don’t let any naysaying casual fan who’s only interested in title matches and guys who talk immense amounts of trash tell you otherwise. The Fuel cards consistently deliver and with a red got Swedish crowd thrown in, this card looks set to do the same.

MAIN (FUEL TV, 2 p.m. ET)
• Ilir Latifi vs. Gegard Mousasi
• Ryan Couture vs. Ross Pearson
• Philip De Fries vs. Matt Mitrione
• Mike Easton vs. Brad Pickett
• Diego Brandao vs. Pablo Garza
• Akira Corassani vs. Robert Peralta

PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 10:30 a.m. ET)
• Michael Johnson vs. Reza Madadi
• Adam Cella vs. Tor Troeng
• Adlan Amagov vs. Chris Spang
• Marcus Brimage vs. Conor McGregor
• Ben Alloway vs. Ryan LaFlare
• Michael Kuiper vs. Tom Lawlor
• Papy Abedi vs. Besam Yousef