STOCKHOLM – It was simply too good of an opportunity to let pass by, but promotional newcomer Ilir Latifi admits he’s feeling pressure to perform now that he’s replaced teammate Alexander Gustafsson in Saturday’s UFC on FUEL TV 9 headliner.
“It was an opportunity, what can I say?” Latifi today told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com), just 12 hours after he was announced as a replacement. “Stepping in the octagon against the best fighters is not (an opportunity) given every day. It’s an opportunity you can’t say no to.”
Gustafsson, the 29-year-old Latifi’s teammate, suffered a facial cut this past week, and on Tuesday, the Swedish MMA Federation officially nixed the rising contender’s participation in the event. Gustafsson (15-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) was slated to fight in his home country against Gegard Mousasi (33-3-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) in Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe Arena.
Latifi (7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC), a fellow Swede who had been helping Gustafsson prepare for the fight, immediately began his campaign to get the fight. For him, it wasn’t about wanting to fight a well-known opponent like Mousasi or headlining a UFC event or getting a big opportunity in his home country.
For Latifi, it was simply a way to get in the UFC. But now, with just three days before his fight with a former Strikeforce and DREAM champion, is he feeling the pressure to perform for Swedish fight fans?
“Of course,” he said. “For me, it’s impossible to fill Alex’s place. He’s a great fighter, and he needed to be here. But I’m going to do my best.”
Latifi, who said he wanted to skip questions about his weight and weight cut, also declined to make any bold predictions. But the short, compact 205-pounder is fully aware the odds are stacked against him. Sure, he was a small part of Gustafsson’s training camp and learned a few tips for fighting Mousasi, but he hasn’t fought in half a year, he’s got no training camp of his own, and he’s knows oddsmakers have tapped him a monumental underdog.
But he’s a longtime wrestler, and he said he’s applied those skills to MMA better than most. It also doesn’t hurt that his strength is also one of Mousasi’s most obvious weaknesses.
“I didn’t have a training camp like Mousasi did, but I hope the situation makes me ready,” he said. “I’m hoping I can go in there and do what I do. I take it for what it is.
“Mousasi is a great fighter. He’s a top 10 fighter in the world. He’s a complete fighter, but I knew I could take the fight, and if I took it, I’d do a good job too.”
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