Unlike half the guys at your local gym, the Sledgehammer’s muscles aren’t just for show.
A wrestler for a large part of his youth, Ilir Latifi (12-5-1) is terrifying once he gets a hold of his opponent. While his best rag-doll highlights are outside of the UFC, this is still the guy who lifted Gian Villante above his head and slammed him into the canvas so hard that people were surprised there wasn’t a Villante-shaped hole where he landed.
He’s also a frighteningly powerful puncher, crouching low and swinging haymaker hooks that flatten opponents with a single clean connection. They’re not terribly refined, but their purpose is to get opponents to the fence so that he can start grappling them.
The problem is that it’s abundantly clear that Latifi is a wrestler first and a mixed martial artist second.
Besides the odd flashy strike, Latifi’s striking is limited to crouching low and throwing hooks. Opponents who’ve been able to stuff or counter this simple offense have completely dominated Latifi; Gegard Mousasi jabbed him into oblivion, Jan Blachowicz caught him with a kick under his outstretched arm and Ryan Bader timed him with a knee.
In the Bader fight, Latifi kept telegraphing his offense by going into a crouch. Whether or not he’s gotten over this habit will determine how high up the ranks he can climb.
Standing 6′ 3″ with a reach just shy of 80″, Tyson Pedro (6-0) is probably the best prospect the light heavyweight division has seen since Jon Jones. None of this kid’s opponents have made it past the first round. And it’s not because he’s some kind of physical, overwhelming force; this kid is a smart fighter.
Pedro’s stand up is simple but crisp and powerful. He’s got fantastic straight punches, and his hooks to the head aren’t bad either. Being long with quick, powerful hands is nightmarish in itself, but that’s not Pedro’s strength. As absurd as it may seem, Pedro is an exponentially better grappler than he is a striker.
For how young Pedro’s career is, it’s surprising that he’s already developed wrinkles in his wrestling. He’s masterful at ducking underneath punches for a power double, and will sometimes bait the punches with his own. On the ground, he is frighteningly efficient with his guard passes, working ground and pound until the referee stops the fight or his opponent gives up the back for a choke.
He has the potential to be the real deal.
As I’ve spent this preview drooling over Pedro, you may think the result is a foregone conclusion. But it’s not so simple.
Latifi isn’t just a better wrestler; he’s a short wrestler who fights even lower. The odds of Pedro being able to get “underneath” to take Latifi down are nil. His best punches are very dangerous to use in this situation; punching down on a shorter fighter is a sure way to get countered over the top and Latifi’s looping hooks are built for that.
The weapons that best counter Latifi are ones that Pedro hasn’t shown in his short career. Can he whip out an intercepting knee or an uppercut for the biggest fight of his life? Or if he insists on grappling, does he have the Greco-Roman skills to try and drag Latifi down in a clinch? And this is all dependent on Latifi, a veteran, not adjusting his game after a devastating knockout loss in his last outing.
I’ll be surprised if this fight makes the distance. Flip a coin; I’m actually going with Latifi.
Latifi via TKO
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?