It's not as though the UFC had a lot of options when the Swedish Mixed Martial Arts Federation said Alexander Gustafsson was unfit to compete at UFC on Fuel TV 9.
The fight promotion went to various fighters to see who would step up to fight Gegard Mousasi, but, for reasons known by only a select few, all they could come up with was Ilir Latifi. The name surely caused a spike in Yahoo! search when MMA fans simultaneously looked him up.
It's great for Latifi -- who was mistakenly referred to as "Latifa" by UFC President Dana White when he made the announcement, which led to endless Queen Latifa jokes -- because the guy is making his UFC debut in a main event. But beyond the fans who feel the steam has been taken out of the card's featured bout, the one who's losing out the most is Mousasi.
With Saturday's fight, there's no upside for the former Strikeforce champion.
"It's a high-risk fight. I don't have a lot to gain," Mousasi said in an interview this week. "This is a fight where I have a lot to lose."
Prior to Gustafsson getting pulled for a gash above his left eye, Mousasi's upside was far greater. If he were to beat the Swedish fighter, it would put him in a good place to be considered for title contention. This would come just after his UFC debut.
The Gustafsson match was important, and was set up to let Mousasi prove he can compete with a top-10 fighter.
"It's my first fight in the UFC, fighting a top guy, knowing it's going to put me much higher towards a title shot," Mousasi said prior to Gustafsson's removal from the card.
Now the situation is completely different. A win will just be a win. No title shot. No contention. Just a win. Hooray?
What makes it worse is that Mousasi didn't even hear about it from the UFC. The fighter, like many of his fans, found out about Gustafsson's removal through the internet. No announcements by the UFC, not until company officials came to the fighter after news had already broken that the fight is likely off.
Like the UFC, Mousasi had no choice but to accept the circumstances.
"I am happy that I am, at least, fighting," he said.
An entire camp dedicated to dissecting Gustafsson's attributes is now looked back on solely as weeks of conditioning. The game-planning part of preparation means nothing now with a different opponent just days out from the fight.
As Gus Johnson so famously stated, sometimes, these things happen.
"He understands the fight business," Mousasi's manager Nima Safapour said, "and wants to wish Alex a speedy recovery and return."
The time in limbo between initial reports of Gustafsson's potential removal on Sunday and the announcement by the SMMAF on Tuesday couldn't have been worse. April Fool's day landed between the two reports, which another light heavyweight took full advantage of.
Wanderlei Silva decided to play a prank and announce that he's been asked the UFC to face Mousasi. He even went to reporters and confirmed his participation in the main event with their outlets.
"Yes," Silva responded via text message when asked by one outlet if he is fighting Mousasi on Saturday.
Silva let the whole thing play out until the following day when he said he was pulling an April Fool's gag. Mousasi wasn't amused, and referred to Silva as a "jackass" when he discovered it was all a ruse.
It hasn't been the easiest week for the 205-pound fighter. He said he's seen just one video of Latifi fighting, and that's about as much as he can study on his opponent with just a few days to go.
On Saturday, however, it'll all be over. He fights Gustafsson's training partner, and, according to Vegas odds, will likely win. Surprisingly, Mousasi is handling it all very well.
As much as he's losing out on Saturday, "The Dreamcatcher" wants to make sure the fans win.
"I intend to fight the same way and with a very high intensity level," he said. "Time to make a good show for everyone."
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Martial Arts
- Gegard Mousasi
- Alexander Gustafsson