For the 2nd straight UFC fight card (both on fight pass), the fights delivered up to their potential. UFC Fight Night 37 featured an abundance of international talent, which not coincidentally, my three stars of the event are all of the European flavour.
3rd Star: Gunnar Nelson
The possessor of the most calm and unassuming personality in MMA, Gunnar Nelson made his quiet walk to the octagon for the first time in over a year. Returning from a knee injury that pulled him out of a in May of 2013, and suffering a car accident during that time, Gunnar Nelson was business as usual. Facing a Russian Sambo champion, Omari Akhmedov, was no problem for Gunni–all he needed was one strike to put the Dagestanian off balance, leading to a takedown. Once the fight hit the ground, Gunnar was in complete control, methodically working towards and eventually securing a guillotine choke for the tapout. Gunni improved to an undefeated 12-0-1 in his career with his 3rd straight victory in the UFC. The Icelander has shown that he is a very bright star in the promotion, and is worthy of all the talk about him being a future title contender.
2nd Star: Ilir Latifi
Who doesn’t love an amazing underdog story? Ilir Latifi was exactly that tonight in London, the native of Sweden finally got a 2nd fight in the UFC–a year after he made his debut on 3 days notice, replacing his training partner Alexander Gustafsson in a fight against Gegard Mousasi. Latifi looked less than impressive as the big underdog in that main event, but did manage to take Mousasi to a decision.
Fast foward 11 months later, “The Slegdehammer” took on “The Snake” Cyrile Diabate, in what was announced as Diabatae’s final career fight. Walking out to the famous Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now”, Latifi completed a very Rocky-esque storyline. The relative unknown comes out of no where to upset a long-time veteran in the sport. Latifi patiently waited his time–as Diabate stood back and threw all of 1 strike in the fight–before shooting in and getting a takedown on his much larger opponent. Latifi would transition into a guillotine choke forcing Diabate to submit and earning his first UFC victory. Latifi said post-fight, “This is the best day of my life”.
1st star: Alexander Gustafsson
Yes Gustafsson was an over 5-to-1 favourite coming into this fight against the undefeated Brit Jimi Manuwa, but for a guy who’s star continues to skyrocket in the sport, how can I not reward him with the 1st star? Manuwa was seen as a very dangerous opponent for ‘The Mauler’, having completely demolished his 3 previous opponents in the UFC, but Gustafsson proved that he was no match at the end of the day, handing him his first career loss. Gustafsson used the takedown in the first round to neutralize the dangerous striking of the ‘Poster Boy’, but Manuwa showed his good ground skills by being able to get back up to his feet near the end of the round. Gustafsson then turned his attention to the standup in round 2, and landed a knee from the clinch that stunned Manuwa and spelled the end of the fight.
Unlike his usual soft spoken demeanor, Alexander Gustafsson grabbed the mic from Dan Hardy during the post-fight interview and called out the light heavyweight champion. Showing signs of increased confidence in himself and his ability to defeat the champion.
“Jon Jones, I want my title shot again. I’m right here. Whenever you want man, whenever you want,” Gustafsson said.
Dana White complimented and solidified Alexander Gustafsson as the next contender for the light heavyweight title, adding that Alexander Gustafsson is the biggest star in Europe. And at this point in his career, it’s going to be difficult to argue with that statement.
Full results and analysis from the event can be seen here by Matt Galea.