Given his sterling resume, it may come as a surprise that Gegard Mousasi has not competed in a title fight in almost seven years.
That drought comes to an end this Friday, when “The Dreamcatcher” challenges Rafael Carvalhofor the middleweight championship in the main event of Bellator 200 at The SSE Arena, Wembley in London, England. Should Mousasi come out with the win, he’ll add to a trophy case that already includes belts from the Strikeforce, DREAM (at middleweight and light heavyweight), and Cage Warriors promotions.
A 15-year combat sports veteran, Mousasi has been around long enough to not overemphasize having gold around his waist, but considering the work he’s put in to get back to this opportunity, he definitely appreciates it.
“It means a lot. On the other hand, I know it’s just a belt. It’s a trophy, but it’s a trophy that’s going to make me happy, I don’t know why,” Mousasi told MMA Fighting. “Last year I’d been chasing a title and finally I’m here, I’m so close to it, so winning it would make me very happy.
“At the end of the day, I know it’s just a belt, it doesn’t say if I was a good fighter or if I was a bad fighter, but people will always remember you if you hold the belt or not. Some good fighters, they never won the belt, so it doesn’t always show the whole picture. But it’s an accomplishment.”
Though Mousasi has only been with Bellator a short time, his hunt for another title shot began during his recent run with the UFC where he won nine of 12 fights, including his last five inside the Octagon. However, despite holding knockout wins over the likes of former world champions Chris Weidman, Vitor Belfort, and Dan Henderson, it often felt like Mousasi was banging his head against the wall when it came to making any significant steps towards then-middleweight titleholder Michael Bisping.
That’s part of the reason why Mousasi chose to make the move to Bellator, where after just one win over former champion Alexander Shlemenko, he is once again challenging for a title. It will be Mousasi’s first championship bout since he successfully defended the DREAM light heavyweight title against Hiroshi Izumi in July 2011.
That quick rise to No. 1 contender status and Mousasi’s 43 career victories could position him as the favorite over Carvalho, who has struggled to gain mainstream recognition. Carvalho (15-1) is unbeaten in six Bellator bouts and he’s defended his crown three consecutive times.
If there’s anyone out there doubting Carvalho’s credentials, Mousasi isn’t hearing it.
“100-percent, he’s the champion for a reason, but it doesn’t say anything if I’m going to have a tough fight or not,” said Mousasi. “I have fights where I thought I’m going to destroy the guy and then I had a very tough fight, I had fights where the guy’s a big name and I win in the first minute. So it doesn’t say anything about the fight if it’s going to be a tough fight or not. … I think the problem with him not getting credit is maybe his lack of English, he doesn’t speak English, I think. But other than that he’s a worthy champion.”
That inability to directly communicate has dulled the feud between Mousasi and Carvalho, though Mousasi did receive a message from the Brazilian via Instagram in which the champ addressed what he perceived to be disrespect from the challenger:
“I’ll tell you something, brother, there’s a saying here in Brazil: ‘Respect is good and it conserves the teeth’”, Carvalho says at one point.
The words were received by Mousasi and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“I saw something on Instagram where he said, ‘In Brazil, we have a saying, you have to respect and whatever,’ I don’t know what he had heard, what he was implying that I’ve said, but it’s fight business,” said Mousasi. “You can say a lot of things, it doesn’t mean anything. I respect all my opponents and they do the same thing that I do to get ready for fights. For me, it’s just talk, I haven’t heard much from him, I’m not a big trash talker either.”
On this occasion, Mousasi is more focused on the positive vibes surrounding the event. He’s headlining a show in the United Kingdom, where he’s never lost, and knows that win or lose, there are several intriguing matchups remaining for him in Bellator down the road whether it’s welterweight champion Rory MacDonald coming up to 185 pounds to fight him, or Mousasi returning to the 205-pound division for a meeting with Ryan Bader.
One thing he’s putting on hold for now is any talk that he might go all the way up to heavyweight should the matchmakers need a replacement for the Bellator World Heavyweight Grand Prix that is currently taking place, though the 32-year-old looks forward to the day when he doesn’t have to worry about his diet and can have some fun battling with the big boys.
“Maybe at the end of my career, I could do some fights at heavyweight, when I’m older and not cutting weight,” said Mousasi. “When I’m in my prime, I should stay at my weight class when I’m at my best, but let’s say the end of my career, I want to just make an extra buck and not taking it too serious, yeah, I’ll get fat and I’ll fight, sure.”