Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight hitters Ryan Bader and Ilir Latifi will battle this Saturday (Sept. 3, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 93 inside Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany. In a match up of powerful wrestlers, what adjustments must be made for either man to claim victory? Let's break it down.
Bader put together the best string of performances in his career to earn a title eliminator opposite Anthony Johnson. Unfortunately, "Darth" was flatlined without much difficulty, and now he must rebuild. On the other hand, Latifi worked his way into the rankings by winning five of his last six, including some devastating finishes. This is a major opportunity for Latifi, as the former short-notice fill-in could climb into the Top 10 and title mix.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both athletes:
Key Wins: Phil Davis (UFC on FOX 14), Rashad Evans (UFC 192), Ovince Saint Preux (UFC Fight Night 47), Quinton Jackson (UFC 144)
Key Losses: Anthony Johnson (UFC on FOX 18), Glover Teixeira (UFC Fight Night 28), Lyoto Machida (UFC on FOX 4)
Keys to Victory: Bader has come a long way in recent years, really refining his technical stand up game and setting up his shots far better. While that all went out the window opposite the ferocious punching of "Rumble," it should make return in this match up.
Thanks to his technical improvement, Bader should have some serious advantages. He's already the quicker man, but now that his stand up consists of more than a charging overhand, he should have a major edge at range. Latifi is a powerhouse wrestler with some crazy punching power, but he's simply not all that fast and has few distance weapons. Against opponents who can move and kick, he's largely a sitting target. Bader showed in his bout with Evans an ability to land, quickly evade the counter, and keep the distance he wants. If he can replicate that against Latifi, he should be able to control the striking until Latifi slows down.
Once that happens, Bader can change levels and tried to take over on the mat as well.
Record: 12-4 (1)
Key Wins: Gian Villante (UFC 196), Sean O'Connell (UFC Fight Night 81), 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 short and explosive fighter. For the most part, he's a fairly standard wrestle-boxer — packing the dual threat of double legs and overhands — but Latifi is especially dangerous due to just how strong and durable he is.
Plus, his conditioning is pretty solid for a fighter who seems to be 90 percent muscle.
In this bout, closing the distance will be important. Latifi cannot expect to leap forward and just hope to land the overhand; Bader has improved enough that it probably wouldn't work. With that in mind, Latifi should focus on two strategies. First and foremost, Latifi should use his wrestling to close the distance into the clinch. From that position, Latifi is within his range and can land hard power shots.
Additionally, Latifi should play the part of counter puncher. Despite his improvements, Bader still tends to hang around in the pocket a bit too long after landing. When that happens, Latifi could let his foe do the hard work and close distance for him before responding with a nasty counter punch.
Bottom Line: This is an important bout for the Light Heavyweight division.
Even with his loss to "Rumble," Bader is not all that far from potentially earning a title shot. No one knows if and when Jon Jones will return, which means that should Daniel Cormier defend his crown, Bader is as good a contender as any.
Someone needs to fight the Olympian.
However, a loss drops Bader far down the ranks. If he comes up short here, it will take another long win streak to return him to the title mix. This is Latifi’s first real step up in competition, barring his short-notice debut. He’s improved a lot since then, and this is his chance to announce himself as more than a simple knockout artist.
With a victory, Latifi is likely one win away from a title shot. On the other hand, Latifi is not a young fighter and should be in the prime of his career. If he comes up short, just outside the Top 10 may end up being his ceiling.
At UFC Fight Night 93, Ryan Bader and Ilir Latifi will duel. Which fighter will leave the Octagon with his head high?