Fortunes changed for five at UFC on FUEL 9

Martin McNeil, SB Nation

Reza Madadi and Tom Lawlor may have saved their jobs with needed wins, but it was debuting fighters, Gegard Mousasi and Conor McGregor, who garnered the most attention when Saturday's show was over.

After a lot of issues during the week with the biggest star on the show not being allowed to fight, Saturday's UFC event in Stockholm, Sweden, turned out to be good for some new faces in the company.

The show was a success locally, with a second straight sellout at the Ericsson Globe Arena. The show drew the company's third-biggest gate ever in Europe, made a few stars, and probably saved a couple of jobs as well.

Dana White announced the gate of $2,710,530, for a show that sold out the first weekend tickets were put on sale. It trailed only a pair of shows in London as the company's most financially successful live events on the continent. Even though the company's biggest Swedish star, both in stature standing and as a fighter, Alexander Gustafsson, wasn't allowed to fight due to a cut suffered just over a week beforehand, the crowd seemed to hardly act like they were disappointed.


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Late sub Ilir Latifi of Sweden, fighting in Gustafsson's place in the main event, admitted being drained by a 27-pound weight cut and no training camp. But the Swedish fans had plenty of underneath highlights, in particular a win by local fighters Reza Madadi, Akira Corassani, Tor Troeng and Papy Abedi, and by Europeans Conor McGregor, Brad Pickett and Ross Pearson.

In particular, Madadi and McGregor stood out, for opposite reasons. Madadi, an Iranian native who grew up in Sweden, was a favorite due to his all-out intensity, hence the nickname "Mad Dog."

McGregor's debut was heavily talked about by insiders, coming off winning both the featherweight and lightweight championships for the Irish Cage Warriors promotion. While certainly intense at weigh-ins, he was as calm and relaxed as could be once the cage door shut. And it was over almost immediately, needing just 1:07 to finish Marcus Brimage.

Speaking after the fight, he campaigned for the $60,000 best knockout bonus. He got it and showed the kind of charm, not to mention in-cage form, that exudes major star potential.

McGregor is one of the five we'll look at on how their fortunes changed on the Fuel broadcast.

TOM LAWLOR - Lawlor (9-5, 1 no-contest), having lost four of his last six fights, desperately needed a win. Largely due to his creative entrances, such as coming out dressed up like a wolf and handing out wolf tickets as he did for Friday's weigh-in, Lawlor has always been more popular and better known than his win-loss record.

But with the herd in UFC needing to be thinned, creative ring entrances were not going to keep him employed much longer without W's. And things weren't looking good from the start.

A former three-time small college national wrestling champion at the University of Central Florida, he was coming out on the short end of a wrestling vs. judo battle against Holland's Michael Kuiper. Kuiper controlled the first round with three takedowns, and blocked every offensive attempt by Lawler.

But in the second round, as Kuiper made a move for a takedown, Lawlor grabbed a guillotine. Kuiper was in it long enough and surviving to where it was beginning to look like Lawlor might burn himself out in trying to squeeze. But then, Kuiper tapped out.

Lawlor was fortunate to get it when he did, because he admitted that he had hurt his right knee early in the first round.

CONOR MCGREGOR - Coming in with 11 knockouts, nine of which came in the first round, the 24-year-old McGregor (13-2) was coming in as Ireland's biggest rising star.

He was hurt quickly by Marcus Brimage, but he recovered and was throwing punches from every angle imaginable.

He put Brimage out with a series of uppercuts to extend his streak. The fight was scheduled only to air on Facebook, but he was so impressive, and the main card had a quick early finish by Diego Brandao, so the UFC audience, as well as the Irish audience, were able to see his handiwork.

"First off, he walked out like it was his 100th fight (in the UFC)," said Dana White.

"UFC jitters, I didn't feel it," said McGregor. "It felt like another contest to me. Competition is competition to me, to be honest. I know what's going to happen, I'm getting 60Gs. What am I gonna spend it on, maybe a nice car or some custom-made suits."

Still, McGregor, who has never seen the third round in his career, admitted this was his highlight win.

"It's my UFC debut of course, it's the best one so far," he said. "I'm making money here. I didn't have money before this. I was collecting 188 Euros a week from social welfare. Now I've got 60Gs bonus, plus my own pay. This is the biggest one, yeah."

REZA MADADI - While Gustafsson is Sweden's biggest MMA star, Madadi (13-3) is like the heart and soul to the fans. A cult hero in his native country, the lightweight would have had his UFC career in jeopardy with a loss to Michael Johnson. After some exciting ground scrambles early, as Madadi was just getting to his feet in the first round, Johnson nailed him in the head with an almost uppercut like kick. His eyes seemed glassy and the end of the round may have saved him.

But Madadi came back with two takedowns to control most of the second round, and then finished Johnson with a D'Arce choke in round three. The entire crowd rose to their feet as one, while he hopped over the Octagon fence and into the crowd to celebrate.

At 32, it is highly unlikely Madadi will ever be champion. But in impressing UFC executives as a guy who can be a significant local star, he likely not only saved his job with a win, but may have bought himself a little cushion if things go badly for him in his next outing.

BRAD PICKETT - Pickett, at 34, is coming off a loss to Eddie Wineland which cost him a shot at interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao. Before this fight, Pickett (24-7) had tried to sell himself as the kind of a fighter who is there to always put on entertaining fights, and he does have a track record to largely back that up.

In the only battle of ranked fighters on the show, Pickett, the No. 5 contender, took a unanimous decision over Easton, the No. 9 contender. But just as impressively, Pickett pulled an exciting fight out of "The Hulk," earning the two the fight-of-the-night bonus.

Pickett, given his age and history of injuries may be on borrowed time. He still could get a title shot provided Urijah Faber loses this coming Saturday to Scott Jorgensen and Dominick Cruz can't return any time soon. But even if he doesn't get the shot, his fortunes are changing, since he noted he's getting married late in the year, and his bride-to-be has expensive tastes. That also seems to make it likely he's going to push that borrowed time to the max.

GEGARD MOUSASI - The Dutch kickboxing specialist has been considered one of the elite fighters at middleweight and light heavyweight dating back to his Pride debut in 2006. He won championships in both weight classes with the Japanese-based Dream promotion, and has also held Strikeforce's light heavyweight title.

With the exception of being outwrestled for five rounds by "King" Mo Lawal three years back, his last loss was in 2006. Since that time, he'd finished name fighters like Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos, Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Mark Hunt, Renato "Babalu" Sobral and Mike Kyle, all in the first round.

But injuries, which kept him out the entire year of 2012, made him almost fall off the radar of people who would be immediately thought of as top tier fighters. But his rep was strong enough that he was a rare fighter who was put in the main event of his UFC debut. And a win over Gustafsson would have immediately shot him into championship contention.

Then things started going bad. First, Mousasi (34-3-2) said he injured his knee, but kept it quiet because of the stakes of a fight with Gustafsson. But when Gustafsson was pulled, he was put in the ultimate no-win situation when Ilir Latifi was made the replacement.

A fight had a good chance of further damaging his knee. A win doesn't necessarily help him, past UFC brass realizing he did them a favor. A loss would have badly hurt his UFC career.

"I don't want to talk about my injury," said Mousasi after the fight. "But with this injury, 95 percent (of fighters) wouldn't fight. I stepped up, I didn't cancel (fighting on) the show. I don't know where we go from here. I don't want to say anything yet. It's (the knee injury) nothing small."

With the nature and severity of the injury not clear, there's no way to figure out what happens next. He picked apart Latifi for three rounds, but he was not the usual explosive Mousasi, and admitted he wasn't taking any chances.

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