Despite Saturday’s main event falling apart on short notice, UFC on Fuel TV 9 will go down as planned from Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.
Here’s a closer look at the new headlining attraction and the remaining fights in store for the UFC’s sophomore Swedish event:
Main Card (Fuel TV):
Gegard Mousasi (33-3-2) vs. Ilir Latifi (7-2, 1 NC)
In a last-minute main event pairing, the 38-fight veteran Mousasi makes his long awaited UFC debut, but it won’t be against top Swedish contender Alexander Gustafsson.
After suffering a deep cut just one week before the fight, Gustafsson was not cleared by the Swedish Commission, prompting the UFC to find a replacement with the event only a few days away.
Enter Latifi, a 10-fight veteran based at Pancrase Gym Sweden. Out of all the names being thrown around as potential replacements, from Wanderlei Silva to Rich Franklin, the UFC has taken a chance on a newcomer who fittingly resides in the host country.
A former Pride welterweight grand prix participant, two-time Dream grand prix champion and Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, the 27-year-old Mousasi is no stranger to longtime fans of the sport.
The Armenian-Dutch fighter was born in Iran, but he grew up in the Netherlands, which is where he developed an admiration for fighting. The judo black belt has racked up many key wins over the years, including triumphant performances against Hector Lombard, Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Mark Hunt and Renato "Babalu" Sobral.
Competing in every weight class from 185 pounds to heavyweight, Mousasi was once thought to be the sport’s best prospect before he dropped a one-sided unanimous decision to Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal in April 2010.
Mousasi is unbeaten since the blemish, but his performances against Keith Jardine and Ovince St. Preux failed to impress. In his most recent fight this past January, Mousasi dispatched Mike Kyle by first-round submission.
In addition to a proficient grappling repertoire, Mousasi is a fearsome striker who is unbeaten in professional kickboxing, including a pair of wins over Japanese legends Musashi and Kyotaro. Still, wrestling has always been the major weakness in Mousasi’s otherwise stellar arsenal.
The 29-year-old Latifi has improved substantially since his losses to Tatsuya Mizuno and Emanuel Newton, but he still lacks the polish and experience to make an immediate impact in the Octagon.
In contrast, Mousasi made easy work of Mizuno, finishing the Japanese veteran by submission when they crossed paths less than one year later.
Riding a hat trick of victories over Denis Bogdanov, Tony Lopez and Jorge Oliveira, Latifi will need the performance of a lifetime to defeat Mousasi.
Standing just 5-foot-8 compared to Mousasi’s 6-foot-1, Latifi will be at a considerable height and reach disadvantage. Moreover, Mousasi is the vastly superior striker, although the stalky Swedish newcomer packs a heavy punch. Latifi is a national wrestling champion in Sweden, so he has the base to give Mousasi a hard time. Moreover, Latifi has trained with the "Blackzilians" in Florida. Teammate Rashad Evans has been impressed with Latifi’s physical strength and wrestling abilities, but the fact remains Mousasi is far more versatile in the cage.
Mousasi will surely adapt to the late change, which also increases his odds of a triumphant promotional debut. He claims to have gone through a real training camp for the first time in his career, another sign that Mousasi is taking his UFC opportunity seriously.
As he patiently wears Latifi down, Mousasi will find the perfect opportunity to pounce with a barrage of fight-ending blows.
Verdict: Mousasi via KO, Round 1
Ross Pearson (14-6) vs. Ryan Couture (6-1)
In a lightweight bout, "The Ultimate Fighter 9" winner and "TUF: The Smashes" winning coach Pearson looks to spoil the promotional debut of Couture, a Strikeforce veteran and the son of UFC legend Randy Couture.
Pearson, 28, made a triumphant return to 155 pounds this past December, finishing George Sotiropoulos by third-round TKO.
After trying his hand at featherweight, Pearson acknowledged the weight cut took its toll. At 155 pounds, The Alliance product owns victories over Spencer Fisher, Dennis Siver, Aaron Riley and Andre Winner.
A black belt in taekwondo and brown belt in judo, the British banger is most effective when he’s engaging opponents in kickboxing-style bouts. With a takedown defense rate of 80%, Pearson has also demonstrated an effective sprawl.
Couture, 30, is coming off his biggest win to date — a split decision over K.J. Noons on the final Strikeforce card in January.
The Xtreme Couture representative has defeated the likes of Joe Duarte and Conor Heun with Matt Ricehouse dealing him his lone professional setback by decision in June 2011.
Couture possesses some high school wrestling experience, but his style is a stark contrast from that of his father. The Washington native is comfortable standing and he also threatens with a slick submission game on the ground.
Pearson marks a significant step up in competition for Couture, who previously worked as an Operations Supervisor for Washington Mutual Bank.
Couture would ideally like to take the fight down to the mat, where Pearson could be susceptible to chokes. He will likely suffer the same fate as Sotiropoulos, however, with Pearson dictating the standup exchanges to emerge victorious.
Verdict: Pearson via Decision
Matt Mitrione (5-2) vs. Phil De Fries (9-2)
In heavyweight action, the former NFL hopeful and "TUF 10" cast member Mitrione tangles with the British submission specialist De Fries.
The 34-year-old Mitrione last saw action in December, suffering a first-round TKO loss against Roy Nelson. The loss marked his second straight, as Mitrione had previously dropped a decision to Cheick Kongo at UFC 137 in October 2011.
In addition to honing his skills under Duke Roufus, Mitrione recently joined the "Blackzilians" in Florida, training alongside heavyweights such as Alistair Overeem and Brendan Schaub, as well as kickboxing sensations Tyrone Spong and Daniel Ghita.
An athletic heavyweight with devastating punching power, the Shotokan karate black belt continues to improve with each performance, having only ventured into mixed martial arts in his mid 30s.
The 26-year-old De Fries was knocked out by Todd Duffee at UFC 155 in December. The Sunderland native is 2-2 since joining the UFC, including a pair of wins over Rob Broughton and Oli Thompson.
A BJJ purple belt, De Fries has followed a similar path as compatriot Ross Pearson, training out of Alliance MMA in California.
Mitrione will be firing on all cylinders as he tries to put De Fries away with his powerful strikes. If the Brit is unable to secure a pivotal takedown, he’ll be in a heap of trouble.
Verdict: Mitrione via KO, Round 2
Brad Pickett (22-7) vs. Mike Easton (13-2)
In a competitive bantamweight tilt, the London native Pickett battles the Washington D.C. native Easton.
Pickett, 34, will be seeking a repeat of his "Fight of the Night" victory over Damacio Page on the UFC’s inaugural card in Sweden. Since that victory, the British brawler knocked out Yves Jabouin in spectacular fashion, while dropping a split decision to No. 1 contender Eddie Wineland this past December.
Anchored at American Top Team, Pickett is well-rounded and a dangerous threat wherever the action spills.
Easton, 29, a member of Alliance MMA and a pupil of Lloyd Irvin, is coming off his first loss in five years. Following wins over Byron Bloodworth, Jared Papazian and Ivan Menjivar, the BJJ black belt suffered his first UFC blemish against Raphael Assuncao by decision in December.
Both fighters are dynamic strikers with sublime submissions. It should be a tooth-and-nail affair, but Pickett’s heavier flurries could be the difference maker.
Verdict: Pickett via Decision
Diego Brandao (15-8) vs. Pablo Garza (12-3)
Featherweight contenders will collide as the Brazilian Brandao faces off with the American "Scarecrow" Garza.
Brandao, 25, earned his spot in the roster by winning the 14th season of "The Ultimate Fighter." The Jackson’s MMA representative rebounded from his first UFC loss against Darren Elkins by notching a decision over Joey Gambino this past October.
A BJJ black belt and a proven finisher, Brandao’s aggression and unpredictability are some of his best traits.
Garza, 29, earned a unanimous decision over Mark Hominick at UFC 154 last November, consequently prompting the Canadian to retire from the sport.
A BJJ purple belt based at the Academy of Combat Sports, the lanky WEC veteran has earned UFC wins over Fredson Paixao and Yves Jabouin.
Garza finished Paixao with a flying knee before putting Jabouin away with a flying triangle choke, which is truly reflective of his dynamic arsenal.
Furthermore, Garza showcased his improving wrestling game against Hominick, securing critical takedowns throughout the fight.
Brandao’s explosive power and superior grappling should factor into the outcome as he catches Garza in a late submission.
Verdict: Brandao via Submission, Round 3
Akira Corassani (10-3) vs. Robbie Peralta (16-3)
Kicking off the Fuel TV telecast, "The Ultimate Fighter 14" cast member Corassani meets the explosive California native Peralta.
The 30-year-old Corassani should receive a rousing ovation for his Swedish homecoming following a contentious split decision win over Andy Ogle in his UFC debut this past September.
Training out of Renzo Gracie Combat Team, the taekwondo black belt and BJJ purple belt is still largely a work in progress. Corassani could be in for the fight of his life against a seasoned scrapper the caliber of Peralta.
The 27-year-old Peralta is unbeaten since July 2009, including a decision over Hiroyuki Takaya, as well as stoppages over Jason Young and Mackens Semerzier, the latter of which was overturned to a no-contest due to an accidental headbutt leading to the finish.
A product of Team Xplode MMA, Peralta is a multidimensional fighter with the tools to finish his opponents anywhere. This doesn’t bode well for Corassani, who will likely succumb to Peralta’s aggressive onslaught in front of his home crowd.