By Jaime C. Feal
The UFC was set for another solid card on FUEL, treating fans to title contender Alexander Gustafsson on free TV. Those plans got thrown out the window, however, when the commission called off the fight due to a cut Gustafsson sustained over his eye in training. Scrambling to find a replacement, the UFC chose Gustafsson’s training partner and fellow Swede Ilir Latifi, who will be making his Octagon debut against the highly respected Gegard Mousasi, also fighting for the first time within the promotion. Earlier in the night is a solid matchup between Ross Pearson and Ryan Couture, which in some pundits’ eyes is now the de facto Main Event.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):
Matt Mitrione (5-2, 5-2 UFC) vs. Philip De Fries (9-2, 2-2 UFC)
The TUF Season 10 veteran Matt Mitrione takes on submission specialist in a feature heavyweight matchup. Mitrione, a former college and NFL football player, uses his excellent athleticism to keep fights standing and pick his opponents apart. Mitrione, now with the Blackzilians, originally started out as a product of Duke Roufus, so he possesses some slick footwork, timing, and striking. Mitrione doesn’t have much of a ground game, instead relying on his speed and technique in the standup to earn him victories.
De Fries’ only real hope is to turn it into a grappling match. This will be an extremely difficult task for him, as he is very plodding and methodical with his movement. Mitrione is the superior athlete, and has greater length and reach than De Fries. Mitrione simply needs to defend the takedown, avoid the clinch, and use his vastly superior striking to dismantle De Fries. If Mitrione impressively knocks him out, he may very well hand Philip De Fries his walking papers from the UFC.
Prediction: Matt Mitrione wins by TKO, Round 1.
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):
Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson (14-6, 6-3 UFC) vs. Ryan Couture (6-1, 0-0 UFC)
Ross Pearson, a tenacious and hungry fighter from Great Britain, is a little beast who won the TUF: USA vs. UK as a contestant and then as a coach in TUF: UK vs. Australia, Pearson dominated rival George Sotirpolous. When it came time for Pearson to square off with Sotiropolous after the conclusion of the season, Pearson smashed through the Aussie ground specialist, proving his well-roundedness once again. Make no mistake, however, despite Pearson’s ability to fight from any position, he clearly prefers to stand and bang with his opponents so he can utilize his natural gifts of speed and power.
Ryan Couture, the son of UFC hall of famer Randy “The Natural” Couture, is making his Octagon debut, and is really being thrown to the wolves by the UFC in drawing Ross Pearson for his first match. Couture is good at everything but great at nothing, and his biggest asset in this fight may be having his father Randy in his corner. He will need all that experience and advice as he deals with a hungry, focused, and frankly superior mixed martial artist in Ross Pearson. While Pearson is certainly capable of finishing this fight, the younger Couture will show that heart runs in the family, before ultimately losing to Pearson on points.
Prediction: Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson wins by unanimous decision.
Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs.):
Gegard Mousasi (33-3-2, 0-0 UFC) vs. Ilir Latifi (7-2, 0-0 UFC)
What a huge disappointment this main event is on paper. Originally intended to be headlined by top LHW prospect Alexander “The Mauler” Gustafsson, the UFC was forced to scramble to find a replacement this week as Gustafsson was deemed ineligible to compete due a cut suffered in training. The UFC chose Ilir Latifi, Gustafsson’s training partner, and a complete unknown.
Latifi is probably going to get destroyed in this match, as he faces Gegard Mousasi, a highly experienced and skilled mixed martial artist who has fought at the highest levels in PRIDE, Dream, and Strikeforce. Mousasi is extremely well-rounded, utilizing solid striking, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu. He excels wherever the fight goes, and obviously is a top level talent if the UFC was willing to give him such a high-profile opponent in Gustafsson for his UFC Debut. Unfortunately, that match doesn’t come to fruition yet, and instead we get this sad attempt at a replacement.
Maybe Latifi proves everyone wrong and shocks the world with an upset over Mousasi, but this fight really ends with Gegard getting his hand raised at least 9 out of 10 times. Look for Mousasi to feel Latifi out for the first couple of minutes before turning it on, showing his class and experience, and ultimately getting the stoppage.
Prediction: Gegard Mousasi wins by TKO, Round 2.