STOCKHOLM – UFC fans hoping to see Swedish contender Alexander Gustafsson (15-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) face Gegard Mousasi (33-3-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) at this weekend’s UFC on FUEL TV 9 event were no doubt disappointed when “The Mauler” was forced to withdraw from the card. But UFC exec Garry Cook believes the fight will still happen.
“I think we’ll still see it at some point, and I don’t think anybody doesn’t want to see it,” Cook told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com).
Gustafsson, of course, was pulled from the fight by the Swedish MMA Federation after suffering a cut over his eye in training and being ruled medically ineligible to compete. Gustafsson’s training partner Ilir Natifi (7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) now fights in the evening’s main event, much to the dismay of many Swedish MMA fans.
Cook understands the disappointment but believes some observers are failing to give Mousasi his due credit for remaining on the card and facing a relatively unknown opponent on just a few days’ notice.
“The interesting thing about Mousasi, he said, ‘I want to fight,’” Cook explained. “That’s the athlete – passion for giving the fans what he wants to give them. Listening to (UFC President) Dana White talk to him and say, ‘Do you want to go through with this?’ And he answered, ‘I want to fight.’ All the puzzle comes together, and he goes, ‘Put me in with Latifi.’”
UFC on FUEL TV 9 takes place Saturday at Stockholm’s Ericsso Globe Arena. It’s the promotion’s second visit to the country of Sweden. The first was a resounding success for the promotion that featured a rabid crowd selling out the venue to cheer on Gustafsson in a three-round victory over established veteran Thiago Silva. This time around, there seems to be a bit of fan backlash over Gustafsson’s removal from the card, but Cook believes the market is still a key player in the company’s European plans, and he hopes to have an established schedule on the continent that includes an annual visit to Sweden.
“One of the things I want to get to is mapping out three years of events so at least everybody knows when it’s coming and actually push the emphasis back to Dana and Joe Silva and say, ‘There are the dates. Now put the card together,’” Cook explained. “What we’ve tended to do in the past was perhaps build a card and say, ‘Alright, where can we put it?’
“I’m a great believer in plans and planning. As I say to (UFC co-owner) Lorenzo Fertitta, ‘I’ll build a plan, and if it doesn’t work, at least I had a plan.’ So I think we’ll be coming back to Sweden within the next 12-18 months.”
And if all goes according to plan, it won’t just be Sweden that received the benefit of annual visits. Cook hopes to build a consistent calendar of events on the continent so fans can know when to expect the UFC to visit, similar to the way Las Vegas fight fans can count on cards built around Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.
“You’re going to start to see us reappear regularly at the same place at the same time, and I think that’s important for the fans,” Cook said. “The consistency, knowing when it’s coming, and then building an experience around it for them so it’s not just a ticket and a fight – they’ve actually got some interaction with the whole sport. They can meet and greet the fighters. They can engage with gaming. They can engage with seminars and stories about nutrition and health and fitness, and I think that’s important.
“Fans need to understand the sport more – the broader audience needs to understand the sport more – in order for it to continue to grow. So I think that regular appearances in major cities are important.”
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