The Forward Roll: UFC on FUEL 9 edition

Martin McNeil, SBNation

From a matchmaking perspective, UFC on FUEL 9 didn't leave us with a whole lot of clarity near the top of the card. Within a couple of days of the event's conclusion, we learned that Gegard Mousasi is injured and probably out for a while, and Matt Mitrione is suspended. Ross Pearson, too, left injured, though his foot is not broken, as he originally believed.

All the winners of the night's top three bouts are destined to be out for some amount of time, and that impacts any projections that might otherwise be made on the strength of a victory.

On the bright side, we had Conor McGregor living up to the hype and already being added on to a future event, so at least we walk away with something concrete.

On to the predictions ...

Gegard Mousasi
Mousasi only indicated after his fight that he would require surgery, but not how long he would be sidelined. It seems that his admission quieted the critics who were initially judgmental over his jab-heavy three-round decision over Latifi. In my opinion, Mousasi was in almost a no-win situation from the beginning. If he didn't knock Latifi out in the opening 60 seconds, it was never going to be quite enough. But Mousasi went from preparing for a 6-foot-5 striker to a 5-foot-9 wrestler with little time to ready himself. That's a seismic shift. On the positive side for Mousasi, he was able to stop Latifi's takedown offense, a good sign that portends well for his future. Unfortunately, he now has to contend with another surgical procedure, and hope that he comes back at full strength, and that, my friends, is no sure thing.
Prediction: With his return time a mystery, it's almost impossible to guess what the division will look like when he returns, but someone like Dan Henderson might make sense.

Ilir Latifi
Fighting on one week's notice, Latifi wasn't able to show any real offensive gifts but at least illustrated his courage in going all three rounds against one of the sport's top finishers. That said, the performance against a compromised foe doesn't exactly make it easy to project where he fits into the division. Given his track record, we can surmise that next time, he's not likely to match up with anyone inside the top 20.
Prediction: He fights the winner of the UFC on FX 8 matchup between Fabio Maldonado and Roger Hollett

Ross Pearson
Another mature, crisp striking display for Pearson, who landed an astonishing 77.4 percent of his total strikes, according to FightMetric. Since returning back into the lightweight division, it's become abundantly clear that 155 is the place for him, with two fights and two TKO's.
Prediction: He faces the winner of the UFC on FX 8 fight between Evan Dunham and Rafael dos Anjos

Ryan Couture
Even before the event, there were many who voiced the belief that Couture was coming too far, too fast, but in reality, after fights with former EliteXC lightweight champ K.J. Noons as well as Conor Heun, it was a reasonable jump. Pearson was simply better than him on Saturday night. He'll no doubt get another shot in the octagon, but perhaps be pulled back when it comes to opponent experience level.
Prediction: He faces the loser of UFC on FOX 7's Jon Tuck vs. Norman Parke match

Brad Pickett
First off, both Pickett and Mike Easton deserve credit for a technical, fast-paced thriller that ended in a split-decision. Both fighters illustrated the best of MMA through tight striking, wrestling and grappling. Pickett's been around a while, so he gets another grizzled veteran next time.
Prediction: He fights Takeya Mizugaki

Diego Brandao
Brandao seems to be maturing, which is a great sign for his future prospects. Gone is the berserker who goes hellbent for the finish in round one, and if he doesn't get it, has nothing left for what remains. Instead, he's controlled violence, hunting for openings but pulling back when nothing's there. That's a much smarter way of competing, and it allowed him to methodically deconstruct Pablo Garza on the way to a first-round submission.
Prediction: He faces another UFC on FUEL 9 winner, Akira Corassani

Conor McGregor
Was there a bigger breakout star on Saturday night than McGregor, the Irishman who steamrolled past Marcus Brimage in 67 seconds? After the win, UFC president Dana White confirmed that he was aiming to place McGregor in front of the UFC event set for Boston in August. I would expect a slow build for McGregor, who is just 24 years old. He deserves a few fights to gauge his potential, but with finishes in all 13 of his wins, the early signs are positive.
Prediction: He faces the winner of the TUF 17 Finale fight between Bart Palaszewski and Cole Miller

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