When Ilir Latifi was announced as the replacement for injured Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 9 this weekend (April 6, 2013), the most common reaction from fans was "who?"
While many are already chalking up an easy first UFC win for Latifi's opponent, former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Gegard Mousasi, one of Latifi's former teammates is singing a completely different tune.
Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans was a former teammate of Latifi's, who trained with the Blackzilians for several months when the team first started and he has a unique perspective on "The Sledgehammer."
Evans will be breaking down Saturday's Stockholm event as a member of the Fuel TV analyst crew and he tells MMAmania.com that Latifi has more than a fair chance against "The Dreamcatcher."
"He trained here for three months and he's a rough Greco guy. He has great transitions, can go from the ground to the stand-up easily. He has a lot of power and he's really strong. He's very strong. That's one thing I remember, 'Man, he's strong.' We would go at it. We'd go hard. If he's in shape, Mousasi will have his hands full."
Latifi does have a strong wrestling background and he's a completely different opponent than what Mousasi originally prepared for. Unlike the 6'5 Gustafsson who's primarily a striker, Latifi is a stocky 5'10 wrestler and that could play right into what many consider Mousasi's weaknesses. Evans agrees.
"I'll you what, if [Latifi's] in shape, he will shock everybody. When you watch Mousasi, in the fight's he's won, he's been the guy who can take people down and control the pace of the fight. At the same time, he has trouble against people who push the pace and can take him down."
Now just how in shape Latifi is, no one really knows. The Swedish Albanian had to cut 26 pounds to make weight for the main event tomorrow. One thing Evans wants everyone to remember is you can never count a fighter out who's got nothing to lose.
"This guy is fighting in his hometown and he's got nothing to lose. He's got a very dangerous opponent in front of him and he's got nothing to lose. This one could be a big surprise."