Days before UFC on Fuel TV 9, The Dutch fighter also caught a new, less-experienced opponent in Ilir Latifi, a fighter that Mousasi picked away at for a unanimous decision victory (30-27 on all three judges’ cards) in the main event Saturday at Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm.
“It was a risky fight,” Mousasi told Fuel TV. “He’s an unknown fighter. I tried to slowly break him apart.”
Latifi was tapped to replace fellow Swede and training partner Alexander Gustafsson on Tuesday. Gustafsson sustained a cut over his eye in training, a laceration Swedish sanctioning officials said would prevent Gustafsson from being cleared for the bout — even though the injury was barely visible this week.
“The commission here did a horrible job with this fight,” UFC president Dana White told Fuel TV. “Let me tell you this: Gegard Mousasi’s knee was injured coming into this fight. He checked with his own personal doctor, who said, ‘You can make it through this fight, but you are going to need surgery (after).’ Thank God he didn’t see the commission doctors here.”
Mousasi, a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ, certainly didn’t have nearly as much to gain with this victory in his first UFC bout. Gustafsson is the No. 2-ranked UFC light heavyweight, and a win would have vaulted Mousasi into contender status.
Instead, he got the unknown (at least outside Sweden) Latifi.
Mousasi was in control throughout, using his jab to push Latifi around the Octagon and inflict damage to Latifi’s face. A cut that Latifi suffered to his right eye in the first round appeared to cloud his vision the rest of the fight.
“I know he’s a wrestler,” Mousasi said in the televised post-fight interview. “I didn’t want him to close the distance, so I fought smart.”
Mousasi was able to keep Latifi on the outside. Latifi, a former Swedish national wrestling champ, attempted a couple of takedowns that Mousasi successfully defended as the fight remained upright until the closing seconds.
Latifi’s lone opening came too late. He caught a Mousasi kick with about 30 seconds left in the three-round bout and drove Mousasi to the mat. Latifi followed with some strikes, but Mousasi remained out of trouble as time expired.
It’s unclear the extent of Mousasi’s knee injury. Mousasi previously tore an anterior cruciate ligament, which idled him for all of 2012.
In the co-main event, Ross Pearson’s move back up a weight class again appeared to be the right decision. Coming off a TKO of George Sotiropoulos in December, Pearson waited out Ryan Couture in the lightweight bout.
Using quick footwork, Couture, the son of MMA legend Randy Couture, controlled much of the first round before he ran into some trouble a round later against the more experienced Pearson.
“It was just patience, timing and not overcommitting too much,” Pearson said in the post-fight interview. “I’m getting a little bit older and a little bit wiser.”
Pearson caught Couture’s left leg and tripped up Couture late in the second round. Pearson followed with several left hands to the fallen Couture, who managed to stand up only to be chased down by Pearson.
Some combinations by Pearson followed as Couture again fell to the mat before the referee stopped it with 1:15 left in the second round.
Pearson, who was the lightweight winner of Season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter, was hobbling afterward, but it wasn’t from the bout. He said he broke his foot throwing a kick during warm-ups.
“My kick hit my coach Eric’s (Del Fierro) elbow," Pearson told Fuel TV. “I was in panic mode right there because I knew I hurt something. This is what champions do. You fight through it.”
Matt Mitrione needed all of 19 seconds to defeat Phil De Fries in their heavyweight bout. Mitrione, a former NFL defensive tackle and TUF competitor, overpowered De Fries, delivering several strikes before the ref stepped in for the TKO.
“I was out 14 months, and I’m coming off two losses in a row,” Mitrione told Fuel TV. “It was a really emotional victory for me. I’m so elated. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
Brad Pickett’s split-decision win over Mike Easton (28-29, 30-27, 30-27) earned the Fight of the Night bonus. Knockout of the Night went to Conor McGregor, who KO’d Marcus Brimage in the first round. Reza Madadi, who used an anaconda choke in the third round to beat Michael Johnson, earned Submission of the Night.