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Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Latifi will fight Mousasi; life will go on

By Josh Gross

Latifi
Ilir Latifi, right, will play the role of "Rocky" in the UFC's upcoming card in Sweden.

It's easy to believe some mixed martial arts fans think of fighters a lot like racing fans regard the cars.

Just listen to them.

Lacerated under an eyebrow less than two weeks before a major fight? No big deal, Alexander Gustafsson. Head to the pits, glue that sucker up, voila, you’re back on the track. If replacing a blown engine doesn't work, well, just hop in a prepped-and-tested backup car -- i.e., pull a fighter equal to Gustafsson’s stature from a bountiful group of guys who are in shape, amenable to meeting a primed Gegard Mousasi on a week's notice, and are just fine cutting weight days after shuttling off to Scandinavia.

Sounds awesome, like everyone should jump at the chance to compete on Fuel TV -- UFC’s least visible television platform -- against a killer, on short, short notice. Pay no attention to the fact that the vast majority of world-class fighters would never say yes in this situation, nor should they be expected to.

Judging by Tuesday's reaction to the news that Gustafsson was replaced by one of his training partners, an unknown UFC debutant, and based off similar reactions to this sort of thing in the past, there's clearly a segment among MMA fans who don't care about much beyond being entertained, even if that noble calling comes at the expense of the people they love to watch fight.

I couldn't digest most of what I read on Twitter after UFC president Dana White announced Ilir Latifi got the call against Mousasi. A lot of it was angry, selfish and cravenly out of whack. So I tweeted a request to anyone who decided to criticize the UFC for making Mousasi-Latifi. They needed to come up with a more appealing option. Right away. And "be happy Mousasi is fighting," I finished.

Most people weren’t satisfied. Not even close. Hey, in some respect, it’s easy to understand. Gustafsson-Mousasi looked like a terrific title eliminator, pitting the hometown fan favorite against an accomplished European making his UFC debut.

To go from that to a fight featuring Mousasi in the cage as a huge favorite over someone no one has heard of, well, that stinks. But that’s all it does. Stink, and for no other reason than a fight we wanted to see on Saturday isn’t going to happen. It’s not some travesty. Not the end of the world or the beginning of the end of the UFC. This was a fight booked on a smaller card meant to capitalize off a local guy gunning to become the No. 1 contender at 205. Sometimes life doesn’t go your way, which is why the card is always subject to change.

Why can’t Gustafsson fight, @foote92 lamented?

Because he experienced a serious gash underneath his left brow on March 28, that’s why. He’s a human being, not a robot.

Several wondered why Gustafsson wasn’t more careful during sparring sessions less than two weeks before the fight. Gustafsson wrote that he was injured while wrestling, so if you care to believe him, this had nothing to do with improper sparring too close to the fight.

Most of the contempt was aimed at the UFC's choice of Latifi.

@MiniKitson wanted “Shogun, Wanderlei, Manua [sic], Tom Lawlor, Tom Watson. Anyone.”

"Shogun" [Mauricio] Rua has a fight lined up with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in June. It’s unlikely he’s anywhere near fighting weight right now.
Jimi Manuwa
It wouldn't have made sense for Jimi Manuwa to step up and fight Gegard Mousasi on such short notice.
Wanderlei Silva, Mr. April Fool’s Joke himself, just returned from vacation in Panama. He can claim he would have taken on Mousasi, but the UFC was smart enough not to offer it to him.

Jimi Manuwa fought in February. While he doesn’t have a bout lined up, Manuwa appears to be far too good a prospect to step in on short notice like this. It would be dumb for him to do so.

Tom Lawlor, a name mentioned as much as any I heard Tuesday, is a middleweight. His last fight was a bore, which he apologized for. For all his tweeting, Lawlor and his management didn’t bother reaching out to UFC about the fight. That said, he presumably would have been in shape, because he’s scheduled for the same card.

Who else?

Lyoto Machida. Oh sure he’d do it, except he was too busy tweeting photos of himself at Disneyland over the weekend. I bet he’s in the right mental frame of mind to fight.

Phil Davis was mentioned a few times, as if training camps mean nothing. Davis is close to peaking for his fight against Vinny Magalhaes, whose style is the exact opposite of Mousasi’s.

And on and on.

Perhaps YOU don’t know Latifi, and so YOU assume the fight will suck and YOU won’t be entertained. But if you’re Swedish, then you have an underdog countryman to root for. Why would anyone in Stockholm want to watch Mousasi versus Lawlor?

If criticism can be found it's in the UFC's decision not to give Gustafsson until Friday to heal as it keeps Latifi ready on standby. Both fighters could have attended media day Wednesday. It would have been a different kind of story ahead of a card that could use some press. Instead, a decision was made, and Gustafsson won't get a shot at fighting no matter how much he coveted it. Another school of thought would suggest the full focus on Latifi over the next few days would give UFC a chance to build a story -- don't be surprised if he's passed off as a Swedish Rocky type.

Is that good enough to entertain fans, especially those who seem so desperate to be entertained? Keep it tuned to Twitter to find out, I suppose.