UFC Fight Night ‘Nelson vs. Story’ Preview
Latifi vs. Blachowicz
Ilir Latifi has finished his last two opponents inside one round. | Photo: Ryan O'Leary/MMAViking.com
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTSIlir Latifi (9-3, 2-1 UFC) vs. Jan Blachowicz (17-3, 0-0 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: Nobody expected much from Swedish-Albanian Latifi when he stepped up on less than a week’s notice to fight Gegard Mousasi, but he has since won two straight against the bottom of the UFC’s thin light heavyweight division. He takes on Polish debutante Blachowicz, who, due to an unfortunate contract situation with the World Series of Fighting, has not fought since beating UFC veteran Goran Reljic in March 2013.
As strange as it sounds, this is a matchup between two of the more talented, relatively speaking, youngsters at 205 pounds in the UFC.
Although Latifi lacks height compared to his peers, standing only 5-foot-8, he makes up for it with fantastic explosiveness and athleticism. The Swede’s strength is legendary: There is a video on his Instagram account, for example, that shows him deadlifting 500 pounds for more than 30 repetitions. That kind of brute force powers his surprisingly technical wrestling game, which forms the bread and butter of his overall approach. Latifi has a quick shot, and his excellent throws from the clinch complement his ability to grind and inflict damage at close range. From top position, Latifi is a monster. He passes guard with authority, throws bombs and boasts a nice arsenal of power-based guillotines and brabo chokes. He is not a plus striker, but he does throw vicious punches and mean low kicks at range, and he is getting better at integrating his strikes with his takedown attempts.
Blachowicz is well-rounded and improving steadily. The core of his game is meat-and-potatoes kickboxing, usually from a southpaw stance, that features stinging kicks and hard punches. He throws mostly single shots at a slow pace, however, and does not take particularly sharp angles. More worrisome is the fact that the Pole tends to move in straight lines, which hampers his ability to shuck off opponents’ takedown attempts. Blachowicz is a competent wrestler and grappler, though neither skill set is outstanding. His guard is active but not particularly dangerous for high-level opposition, and his top game is improving but still not great. Blachowicz is a solid fighter with some upside, but he is not a potential contender.
BETTING ODDS: Latifi (-240), Blachowicz (+200)
THE PICK: Despite Latifi’s substantial disadvantage in height and reach, Blachowicz’s tendency to move backward in straight lines when pressured and lack of volume to keep opponents on the outside means the Swede will probably not have much trouble closing the distance. I expect him to take down Blachowicz repeatedly, control him from top position and bomb away with ground strikes until he forces a stoppage in the second round.
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