Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight sluggers Ilir Latifi and Gian Villante will hunt for the knockout this Saturday (March 5, 2016) at UFC 196 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Though many laughed off Latifi as short-notice cannon fodder for Gegard Mousasi, Latifi has proven himself a valuable member of the roster and very dangerous fighter. He's won via finish in four of his last five fights, showing off some devastating power.
Meanwhile, Villante continues to be an inconsistent-but-dangerous combatant. Every time he seems to be building momentum, something goes wrong for the New Yorker. Nonetheless, he has a major opportunity here to pick up an important win.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Record: 11-4 (1)
Key Wins: Sean O'Connell (UFC Fight Night 81), Hans Stringer (UFC Fight Night 72), Cyrille Diabate (UFC Fight Night 37)
Key Losses: Jan Blachowicz (UFC Fight Night 53, Gegard Mousasi (UFC on Fuel TV 9)
Keys to Victory: Latifi is a physical beast. He's also deceptively well-rounded, as Latifi has a strong wrestling background and is an ADCC veteran as well. In addition, he's won his last three fights via knockout, which is a pretty impressive number considering he only finished two men via strikes prior.
In this bout, Latifi should look to take advantage of being well-rounded. His opponent may have a wrestling background too, but I cannot remember the last time Villante relied on it and found success.
With that in mind, Latifi should take the role of aggressor and look to pressure his foe with big punches and takedown attempts. If he can finish the shot, Latifi is in great position to do damage or catch another guillotine.
If not, the threat of Latifi's takedown will still benefit him. By using level change feints as a weapon, Latifi should be able to create holes in his opponent's striking defense and connect with some big punches.
Either way, pressure should tire his opponent out. Villante has gassed horribly before, whereas Latifi showed some pretty decent conditioning in past fights despite his power lifter build.
Key Wins: Corey Anderson (UFC on FOX 15), Anthony Perosh (UFC 193), Sean O'Connell (UFC Fight Night 43)
Key Losses: Tom Lawlor (UFC on FOX 16), Fabio Maldonado (UFC Fight Night 38), Ovince St. Preux (UFC 159)
Keys to Victory: Villante has developed from a brawler with a wrestling background into a fairly fluid striker. Luckily, he brought the heavy hands along with him, as Villante has scored nine of his wins via knockout.
In this bout, Villante needs to work on maintaining the distance. He has a height and reach advantage over "Latdog," and it's very important that Villante takes advantage.
Power or not, a close range exchange of punches does not favor Villante.
However, Villante's solid counter wrestling, movement, and hard kicks could definitely put the momentum in his corner. If he can maintain the range and punish his foe with long strikes, Villante is really putting the pressure on his opponent to close the distance.
Then, Villante's powerful counter punches could play a role.
The only recent time Villante fatigued was when Fabio Maldonado threw a million punches and stayed in Villante's face, so being able to set his own pace should be very beneficial. Even if Villante cannot land one big counter punch, he should be able to maintain his own pace without much issue.
Bottom Line: One of these two men is Top 15 material and the other is not. The winner of this bout decides which man has an opportunity to climb the ranks, and which fighter will end up stuck fighting opponents in the middle of the division.
Both Latifi and Villante have enough professional experience and are at an age where they should be entering their primes. Essentially, neither fighter is likely to rapidly improve from their current form. With that in mind, if there's a chance of either man going on a title run or even simply ascending into the Top 10, it's important for him to win now.
On the other hand, a loss to an unranked fighter will only hold the loser back. It means that another opportunity on a major card like this will require a few more wins, which requires time. As fighters in their prime, both men should be attempting to impact the division and the sport now, not simply vie for attention.
At UFC 196, Ilir Latifi and Gian Villante will go to war. Which man will have his hand raised?