Unheralded, hard-hitting Light Heavyweight sluggers Ilir Latifi and Gian Villante duked it out earlier tonight (Sat., March 5, 2016) on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 196, which took place inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
And it went the full 15 minutes, which few predicted, with Latifi ultimately getting the edge thanks to his power punches and super slams.
Both fighters touched gloves as a mutual sign of respect to start the bout, but then Villante got the action started with his legs. Latifi was able to catch one of them and press Villante up against the cage, where he landed a nice right cross on the break. Villante went back to work with his kicks, which appeared to bother Latifi early. So bothered, in fact, that he drilled Villante with a powerful shot that nearly sent the big man to the canvas. The pair jockeyed for position along the cage and, once again, Latifi landed a nice shot as they separated. Latifi kept up the pressure along the cage, closing the distance and looking to land something short. Villante was able to get some distance and landed his best kick of the night to the belly of Latifi just as the round came to a close.
Villante came out for round two identical to the first: Kicking. Latifi charged in with two wild misses, while Villante uncorked another kick, which the Swede caught and used to give the Long Islander a ride with a nice, powerful toss over his shoulder. Villante, however, was quickly able to escape and went back to playing soccer with Latifi's stocky -- by this time very red -- legs. Latifi then got into the action, attempting a nice spinning kick that Villante saw coming from a mile away. With 20 seconds to go, Latifi scored another slam, but Villante was able to get back to his feet just as the round expired.
It was a fairly even fight heading into the third and final frame. Villante came out with purpose -- and more kicks -- as Latifi struggled to close the distance and land something ... anything. Latifi pressed Villante up against the cage and was able to defend a deep takedown attempt very well. Latifi finally connected with a looping left, which appeared to catch Villante off guard He did it again seconds later, this time with his right hand, but Villante was able to absorb it and keep pressing forward. Latifi landed another huge left, which buckled his knees, but Latifi -- for whatever reason -- never pressed the action. Latifi landed another left and then used his momentum and the cage to takedown Villante for the third time just as the fight came to an end.
It was a close fight, one that most did not predict would make it past round two. Nonetheless, Latifi apparently did more -- perhaps with his takedowns and knee-buckling shots in the final frame -- to earn a unanimous decision nod. That's now three straight victories for Latifi, who will now more than likely crack into the Top 15 Light Heavyweight rankings early next week.
For complete results from UFC 196: "McGregor vs. Diaz," including play-by-play updates, click here and here.