When the diffident, unassuming Dutch-Armenian fighter Gegard Mousasi sauntered into the cage in his U.S. debut back in August 2009, it appeared as if he had just wakened from a brief nap in his locker room.
For those who had never seen him fight before, he may have given the impression he was nervous and unprepared.
The reality, however, was the direct antithesis of that judgment. It was and always has been by design.
“The more fights I have the more relaxed I get in cage or ring. It’s all about experience. It’s something that I try to do because I fight better when I am relaxed,” said Mousasi.
After just one minute into the first round his unremarkable entrance had morphed into a dominating and remarkable outcome.
A takedown and some thundering ground and pound prompted referee “Big” John McCarthy to step in and stop the fight.
The reigning, defending Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral was sprawled out on the canvas in a heap of destruction and bewilderment.
The new champion was 24-year-old Gegard Mousasi, who barely even broke a sweat.
“I was expecting a tough fight because Sobral is experienced and a tough opponent. I don’t feel I dominated because the fight was to short, but sometimes fights end quick,” said Mousasi.
The victory over the veteran Sobral was his biggest accomplishment to date.
Mousasi has certainly come a very long way in a short span of time. Fighting all over Europe and Asia he put together a sparkling professional MMA record of 25 – 2 – 1 (currently 26 – 2 – 1 after his victory over Sobral).
Along the way he accumulated both the Cage Warriors middleweight championship and the DREAM middleweight grand prix championship.
He has also defeated some of the top fighters in the world including current Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard, Evangelista Santos, Denis Kang, former Cage Rage light heavyweight champion Melvin Manhoef, and multiple time jiu-jitsu world champion Ronaldo Souza.
The toughest fight of his career, however, is not what you may think.
“Probably my third fight against Gilson Ferreira. I was seventeen and I think he was much older, bigger, and stronger. I didn’t have a lot of experience. I only could box. It was a brawl fight. I did very well but the rules where different. You couldn’t win unless you knocked him out or knock down or a rope escape,” said Mousasi.
Moving forward, he is set to face Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in a non-title bout on Nov. 7 at the Strikeforce/M-1 Global event ‘Fedor vs. Rogers’ that will be broadcasted live on CBS television from the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, IL.
It will be Mousasi’s second consecutive fight in the U.S., where he is trying to ingrain himself in the culture outside the cage as well.
He’s already familiarized himself with American movies, television, and music.
“I really like Robert De Niro. I watch the comedy shows like Married With Children , Friends , Family Guy , and Everybody Loves Raymond . I like all kinds of music artists like Akon. I even listen to Lady Gaga,” said a slightly embarrassed Mousasi.
He is, however, still adapting to a few of the customs.
“Something I don’t understand is the fact you have to tip everybody. In Holland we tip also but there is a big difference between the countries,” said Mousasi.
He may still feel a bit awkward outside the cage, and understandably so, but it is clear he could not be anymore comfortable inside the cage if he tried.
If Mousasi is able to defeat Sokoudjou, he will likely defend his Strikeforce light-heavyweight championship belt in early 2010.
Potential opponents include Muhammed Lawal or Mike Whitehead; however, Strikeforce may also choose to bring in a free agent like Paulo Filho or Ricardo Arona.
What appears to be a clear lack of depth in the Strikeforce light-heavyweight division is an issue that does not seem to bother him.
“With Strikeforce working with DREAM and M-1 Global there will be enough opponents to fight. I feel that Strikeforce has everything to get even bigger. They put up great fight cards, have a good TV deal, and they know how to run their business,” said Mousasi.
He may be content both fighting for Strikeforce and competing in the light-heavyweight division, however, don’t expect either to be long term resting spots.
After all, the majority of the best light-heavyweight fighters in the world reside in the UFC in the form of Lyoto Machida, Mauricio Rua, Rashad Evans, etc…
On the other hand, it’s always been his intention to someday become the heavyweight champion like his good friend and training partner Fedor Emelianenko, the No. 1 ranked heavyweight in the world.
“It’s (competing at heavyweight) something I want to do. It’s a goal of mine,” said Mousasi.
He may also be waiting for Emelianenko to retire before he makes the leap to heavyweight.
Nevertheless, for the time being he’s gaining valuable experience, sculpting his body physically, and continuing to hone his skills against bigger opponents.
He may be having success early, but he does not appear to be making the same mistake that other up-and-coming fighters have fallen victim to in the past, that is, a feeling of invincibility.
Mousasi openly admits his biggest weakness. That is something you will not see a lot of veteran fighters being honest about.
What part of his game does he feel needs the most work?
“Submissions, just because there aren’t a lot of Brazilian jiu-jitsu trainers and fighters to train with that are pure Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I think that’s something I can improve but for that I probably have to train outside Holland so when I get the opportunity I will do that,” said Mousasi.
Self-critical, young, talented, even-keeled, and ambitious; I could not think of any better characteristics for a mixed martial arts fighter to have.
Now let’s all sit back and enjoy his encore performance in America.
Derek Bolender is a regular contributor of fighter interviews and featured articles to CBSSports.com, MMAmania.com, and CNNSI.com, in additional to BleacherReport.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/DerekMMAWriter and at Facebook.com/Derek.Bolender.