MMA: Ilir Latifi

Latifi in it to win it against Mousasi

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
2:47
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Ilir LatifiRyan O'LearyIlir Latifi, above, isn't treating Saturday's bout with Gegard Mousasi as a "nothing to lose" situation.
Ilir Latifi versus Gegard Mousasi is not Alexander Gustafsson versus Gegard Mousasi. True.

For those who enjoy a good story, however, there’s been one brewing in Sweden this week.

As speculation grew that a cut would force Gustafsson from the UFC on Fuel main event at Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, a non-UFC-contracted Latifi climbed into his car in Malmo and began a solitary seven-hour drive north.

“I made the drive by myself,” Latifi told ESPN.com. “I was thinking of the possibility of the fight, because I wasn’t sure if it was on. There were so many factors it was depending on. Would somebody else step in? Would Mousasi accept the fight?”

Latifi (7-2) officially replaced Gustafsson in the main event on Tuesday and it’s been a whirlwind of activity since.

Forget about game planning or training specifically for Mousasi; Latifi has been filling out medical forms, conducting interviews and (the worst part) attempting to cut 26 pounds to make weight.

“I will make weight. I will make weight,” promised Latifi. “I’m not such a tall guy, but I’m pretty heavy. I usually weigh between 225 and 230 pounds. I wasn’t prepared. I was 26 pounds over.”

Not the best circumstance surrounding a fight -- but it makes for a great story. When Latifi was told Mousasi accepted the bout, he called his brother Arben [a major influence in his career] in the middle of the night, who had what Latifi described as an “emotional” response.

Latifi and his camp have waited for a call from the UFC, twice. The promotion held an event in Stockholm in April 2012. Latifi didn’t receive an invite, but won back-to-back fights the rest of the year in hopes of making the next Swedish card.

Had Gustafsson not been forced out, it would have been another disappointing oversight for Latifi. Now he has a shot to perform against an opponent like Mousasi (33-3-2) in a main event. Even he’s not sure how it will go.

“Let’s see on Saturday what happens,” said Latifi, when asked if he has the talent to make a sustained run in the Octagon. “We’ll see after this fight, you know? I’m thinking about this fight first, doing my best.”

It’s a scenario in which many would say the underdog has nothing to lose. Six days ago, the UFC still seemed months or years away (and only if Latifi continued winning). On Saturday, Latifi’s name will headline the event.

When asked if that’s how he feels, though, Latifi scoffed. He’s been hearing the last two days he has nothing to lose. But when you’ve dedicated your life to combat sports, undergone surgery to fix injury, waited for a fight contract from the world’s largest promotion that didn’t come -- you feel like you have something to lose.

This story is only worth reading if it doesn’t have a letdown ending.

“I’m comfortable with myself,” Latifi said. “But at the same time, people say I have nothing to lose; yeah, I have a lot to lose. I want to go in there and win and make a good fight. If you’re just going to go in and lose, it’s nothing.”

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