MMA veteran and recent Bellator MMA-signing Gegard Mousasi recently spoke in an exclusive interview with Pundit Arena and gave insight into his ambitious plans for 2018.
At the highest levels of MMA, to reach 50 professional fights before hitting your athletic prime is a rarity. Sure, you have those who float about the lower reaches of the international circuit, padding their record with winnable fights without really breaking on through into that upper-tier but for the most part, a career – even one as long as 50 bouts – would likely have risen, peaked and dropped off by the time the milestone was hit.
For ‘The Dreamcatcher’ Gegard Mousasi, his long and storied career has come purely as a consequence of his methodical and cool-headed approach to getting the job done at nearly every time of asking.
In 50 fights, he has come away in victory on forty-two occasions, dropping six losses and two draws but while it would be pretty fair to assume that he – at the age of 32 – packed his earlier run on the regional circuit with as many fights as possible in order to pad his record. However, on closer inspection, it’s pretty clear to see that Gegard has been competing at the highest level for over a decade now.
Gegard spoke exclusively to us here at Pundit Arena recently as he enters his final few days of preparation before making his promotional debut in Bellator MMA. And, despite the crazy few months that are now in his rear-view, he seemed driven to make the most of his new home and show the fans exactly why the very best is yet to come from him.
“100% I feel like I’m in my prime. I’m in better shape now than I was against [Chris] Weidman. This morning I felt unbeatable. With stand-up I feel like I’m one of the best, and that’s my opponent’s strength and that’s where he’s going to come up short because I feel like I’m a lot better than him.
“I’m in my prime. I’m 32, I feel like I’ve matured. I have 50 fights. Physically I’m at my best so I feel like I’m going to be dominant for the next couple of years.
“I feel like I’m part of the family right away. My goal is to grow with Bellator and of course, get the middleweight belt.”
A headlining spot on the October 20 Bellator 185 will see him take on the veteran Alexander Shlemenko, a man whose own pro-record (56-9, 1 NC) actually surpasses his opponent’s in terms of its length. that said, those who know exactly what Mousasi is capable of understand that anything less than a dominant win will no doubt be an underwhelming start to life as a Bellator-rostered athlete.
Shlemenko’s strengths going into this one lie primarily in his experience. In his thirteen-year career, he has fought some of the game’s toughest at both middleweight and light-heavyweight including the likes of Tito Ortiz, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza and Hector Lombard. But really, despite the fact that he currently riding a seven-fight unbeaten run, the calibre of the opponents he has faced in comparison to Gegard’s just doesn’t stack up.
Mousasi’s recent streak might well be his impressive. As a high-flyer at 185lbs in the UFC, he managed to score four straight knockouts in as many fights, beating Thiago Santos, Uriah Hall and formers champs Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort. And while the gulf in championship-level pedigree is clear, Gegard showed absolutely no signs of over-confidence, despite the fact that he’ll walk into the Mohegan Sun Arena next weekend as the clear favourite.
He’s a tough opponent, he always comes to fight. He’s a stand-up guy, he throws heavy-hands, heavy-kicks, you know, spinning stuff.
“He’s just a guy that you can never underestimate. He’s just about as tough as they come but I feel confident because all of the attributes to beat him, both technique-wise and physically. I can be dominant wherever the fight goes.
“Submission, knockout, I don’t know, both I can do. He’s an aggressive guy, he comes forward and that’s where he makes a lot of mistakes. I see myself winning inside two rounds.”
Mousasi had often found himself on the receiving end of criticism over the years for what many perceived to be an overly-cautious approach to fighting, but now, at 32-years-old, it’s fair to say that with him now entering his peak years, he has become more aggressive, something that is evidenced by his current streak of finishes.
And though some might see his defensively-aware style as guarded, to some extent, after 50 fights the amount of damage he has taken has been minimal, a critical reason for the longevity of his career.
What’s so surprising about Gegard Mousasi, with that in mind, is that while his methodical attack has become something of a trademark for him, his fight-selection and admittedly loose attitude towards weight-classes just completely contradicts what you might think if you weren’t aware of his history.
As a middleweight he has perhaps had some of his best and most noteworthy success, but Gegard has fought and won titles at 205lbs and has even competed as a heavyweight in the past, with his most famous win coming against the legendary powerhouse that is Mark Hunt, in what was a truly freak victory, given the clear size difference between the two.
With his move to Bellator, Mousasi just doesn’t seem content with just the middleweight strap. Of course, his focus is primarily on Alexander Shlemenko and his fight this weekend but with one eye on the year 2018, Gegard didn’t seem too opposed to taking the risk once again and moving up in weight-class.
“First I have to win the middleweight belt, Shlemenko and then whoever is the champ in December. After that I can look for light-heavyweight fights – even heavyweight fights, but I have to be realistic, that’s going to be a lot tougher to do.
“But first, the middleweight belt and then light-heavyweight where you have a lot of big names, so, plenty of fights in mind.”
It’s a measured sense of confidence from the Dutch-Armenian. There was nothing he said that led me to believe that he was overlooking his next opponent, but throughout the interview, he spoke with a level of assurance in his own skills that just told me that he was nothing short of certain that his hand would be raised on Friday night.
Money-fights are taking precedent a lot more these days and if you know anything about Gegard’s split from the UFC, you’ll know that money did play at least some role in his decision. So when asked about finding the balance between attaining championship glory by testing himself compared to the guaranteed pay-days that would come from taking on, say, a Chael Sonnen or a Wanderlei Silva, Mousasi’s answer was clear.
“I think a lot of people are asking about Rory MacDonald. That’s the main fight that is looming. He has a tough fight ahead of him [challenging Douglas Lima for the welterweight title] and after this fight I still have to fight for the middleweight belt. Once we have that, I can fight MacDonald or, I can go up to light-heavyweight and fight Ryan Bader for the belt. Step-by-step.
“First Shlemenko, then probably Rory MacDonald before I go up against Ryan Bader but that’s a long way to go so I’m just focused on getting this win.”
With a win next weekend, there would be no doubts about who is next for a shot at the 185lb belt. Champion Rafael Carvalho is set to attempt to make his fourth consecutive title-defence as he takes on Alessio Sakara in December and according to Gegard, if injuries do not play a role in booking his next fight, we can all expect to see him back fighting sometime before summer.
“The champ [Rafael Carvalho] is fighting Alessio Sakara in December so after that he’s probably going to need 2-4 months before he can fight again so I’m looking at somewhere between February and April for when I can fight my next fight. All I can do is see how the fight goes and see if they’re not injured but after this fight it is 100% the belt next.”
Gegard Mousasi makes his Bellator-debut next weekend, Friday, October 20, as the headliner of Bellator 185, which is set to take place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena