Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight bruisers Ovince St. Preux and Ilir Latifi will square off this Saturday (Feb. 24, 2018) at UFC on FOX 28 inside Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
For some time, Saint Preux had a reputation as a great physical talent who was unable to develop the fully formed game necessary to become a true title contender. His recent three-fight win streak is perhaps the best of his career, however, and it seems that “OSP” may have finally put it all together and be ready to capitalize on an empty division. Expectations have generally been lower for Latifi, who debuted on a week’s notice as a sacrifice to Gegard Mousasi. However, Latifi proved a solid addition to the roster already, and he’s only improved his overall game and composure since.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Ovince Saint Preux
Key Wins: Mauricio Rua (UFC Fight Night 56), Corey Anderson (UFC 217), Patrick Cummins (UFC on FOX 15), Ryan Jimmo (UFC 174)
Key Losses: Jimi Manuwa (UFC 204), Volkan Oezdemir (UFC Fight Night 104), Glover Teixeira (UFC Fight Night 73), Ryan Bader (UFC Fight Night 47)
Keys to Victory: Saint Preux is an odd mix of athleticism and volatile techniques. The rangy Southpaw is at his best when working behind his thunderous kicks, as he has a great ability to time foes trying to push past that range with well-placed counters.
To be frank, Saint Preux is something of a nightmare match up for Latifi. Outside of perhaps Jon Jones and Alex Gustafsson, it’s hard to imagine a worse fight for “The Sledgehammer.” Latifi’s great issue is that he’s short and a bit foot slow, which means longer fighters (a.k.a. just about everyone) can do serious damage by kicking him at range without fearing the consequence.
Saint Preux kicks hard as hell, and his athletic takedown defense means catching a kick and converting it into a takedown will be quite difficult. This is an absurdly simple strategy for “OSP,” but all he really needs to do is immediately start firing his snap kick into the mid-section and round kick to the head/body. Latifi will not like it one bit, and a kick has a fair chance at producing a finish. If not directly, it will force Latifi to lunge forward directly into the danger zone of Saint Preux’s counter punches.
Record: 13-5 (1)
Key Wins: Tyson Pedro (UFC 215), Gian Villante (UFC 196), Sean O’Connell (UFC Fight Night 81), Cyrille Diabate (UFC Fight Night 37)
Key Losses: Ryan Bader (UFC Fight Night 93), Jan Blachowicz (UFC Fight Night 53, Gegard Mousasi (UFC on Fuel TV 9)
Keys to Victory: Latifi is a fireplug of a fighter, a powerful wrestler with big slams and heavy punches. His patience and boxing skill are underrated, and those are precisely what allowed him to maneuver past a rangy and dangerous young gun in Tyson Pedro last time out.
I explained above why it’s my expectation that Latifi is in for a rough night, but there is a silver lining here. Unlike the aforementioned Jones or Gustafsson, Saint Preux is a fighter who has been successfully wrestled before, and he does slow down when forced to wrestle for a while.
The problem will be getting into a wrestling exchange safely. Getting through Saint Preux’s kicks will be a monumental task, and Latifi can’t leave himself vulnerable in the process.
On paper, there are a number of options for Latifi, but I tend to discount the usual patient approaches: one clean kick from Saint Preux will ruin everything. Latifi can attempt to bull rush immediately, which is definitely risky, but hey, this is fighting. Alternatively, Latifi could hang far back early and wait for Saint Preux to throw a kick. If he can make the kick come up short, Latifi can attempt to follow it back while “OSP” is not yet in position to kick again, which is a chance to wrestle.
Bottom Line: One of these long-time veterans is going to break into the title picture. Indeed, a victory in this bout is huge for either man. For Saint Preux, it’s his fourth straight win and nearly guarantees a No. 1 contender title eliminator match with Alexander Gustafsson. That’s a hell of a comeback considering his recent trio of losses. In Latifi’s case, it’s only two straight wins, but five victories in his last six is nothing to scoff at. Sadly, he trains with Gustafsson, but a high-profile match up would still be in his immediate future. On the other hand, a loss here definitely cuts into the defeated fighter’s momentum. The bright side is that Light Heavyweight is still remarkably empty. Saint Preux raised himself to this strong position in just three fights that all took place within seven months. And that type of progress is possible again considering the competition.
At UFC on FOX 28, Ovince Saint Preux and Ilir Latifi will battle in a pivotal 205-pound bout. Which fighter will see his hand raised?