Maybe Gegard Mousasi used to care, back when the noise was at its loudest. Back when he pillaged through DREAM’s middleweight grand prix then effortlessly seized his Strikeforce light heavyweight title. Maybe he cared when people began to whisper of a mini-Fedor, an emotionless machine of destruction hailing from the Netherlands, whose reign seemed inevitable.
Maybe he cared about the opinions because that’s what you do when you’re young in the fight game; when you don’t know any better, and all this hype seems like it’ll last forever. But that’s the thing. It never does. Success breeds public unrest, and it often takes just one moment of weakness for an aura of invincibility to be ripped away. Perhaps Mousasi used to listen to the critics back then, but he no longer does. Two years of marginalization will do that to a man.
“Maybe [because I was overseas],” Mousasi mulls, his thick accent hardly hiding his frustration. “I don’t know. I see some fighters lose very badly, but still they get more praise or they’re not overrated. They’re just good fighters in a lot of people’s eyes. But I feel like one loss with King Mo, it made me a very bad fighter somehow.
“When I first fought in the U.S., there was a lot of attention. And then after that loss, there wasn’t actually that much interest. I see now, it’s experience. I get [more] mature. I understand now things how work.”
Catch Mousasi in the right mood, and the date pops up in conversation more than often than not. April 17, 2010, Strikeforce Nashville. One night that will forever live in infamy, if only for an inane brawl on network television and the first uttering of the phrase, “Sometimes these things happen in MMA.” But for Mousasi, the memory signifies something else entirely.
It’s the night he got exposed, according to the noisemakers. The night a 2-to-1 underdog, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, exploited a fatal flaw in his game, outwrestled him for 25 minutes, snapped a 15-fight win streak, and kickstarted a narrative that still lives strong. Though it’s that last part that hurts the most.
Yes, to call Mousasi’s performance against Lawal listless would be generous. At times he looked as bored and indifferent as a man fighting off unrelenting takedown attempts in a cagefight could conceivably look. But once word spread that Mousasi was, how to say, motivationally challenged, there was no going back. Over the ensuing few years, his stock plateaued, and the narrative became somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fights, which were once special to him, became simply a means to an end. “I felt I accomplished my goals,” Mousasi admits. “I won in DREAM. I got the belt in Strikeforce.
“You’re a top contender, and [suddenly] you are just a fighter, basically fighting just to fight. I understand how things go. It can go very fast. It comes fast and it goes fast.”
So understand that when Mousasi calls the knee injury that sidelined him for all of 2012 a positive, he actually means it, even if it may be the first time in the history of professional sports a knee injury could be described as such. Sure, it was difficult to do little for a year besides sleep, rehab, and get lost in his own thoughts. But the world changed in a mighty way while he was out. “This is the time to be more professional,” Mousasi vows. “And that’s what I’m doing now. I feel like I have a lot of potential, and I feel like I can beat anybody.
“The prospect of going to the UFC and maybe fighting one day for the belt, it’s motivating. It’s something new. So every fight I see now is more important to me because I have a goal, going for the UFC belt.”
Mousasi bowed out of 2011 with little motivation, languishing in a floundering promotion and half-heartedly committing to his training. Now things are quite different. Strikeforce has days to live. The prospect of competing against the best in the UFC has changed every aspect of Mousasi’s regimen. His mind is refocused and he has rededicated himself to his craft. No longer surrounded by enablers, Mousasi has immersed himself in the first real training camp of his career, and is eyeing a move to the United States to train in California following his bout against Mike Kyle at Strikeforce’s farewell event. And yes, he swears to have drilled takedown defense until his body was past the point of exhaustion.
Put everything together, and there is a fire in Mousasi’s voice that hasn’t been there in some time. “I have it in the back of my head,” he measuredly explains. “This fight is a very important fight. It’s a very important fight for my future and career.
“I see a lot of fighters getting knocked out, but they still, they praise them a lot more than me. I haven’t been beaten badly in any fight. I just lost one fight in, I don’t know how many fights. I think people underestimate me. And I feel like now, with the good training I have, why shouldn’t I be able to fight these UFC fighters?”
Mousasi admits it’s tough not to look ahead when such a colossal opportunity is so close. If he had his wish, he’d fight Shogun Rua, Forrest Griffin, Lyoto Machida, or Alexander Gustafsson for his Octagon debut, though really anyone in the top-10 would suffice. Mousasi knows he’s small for the division — he walks around barely above 210 pounds — but he’s confident his technique, speed and conditioning will neutralize any weight advantage his opponents may have. And if things don’t pan out like they should, Mousasi would be open to a move down to middleweight.
But things will pan out, he’s sure of it. He can feel it. For too long his critics have thrown around that damnable word. Overrated. Everything has built to this moment. And now it all begins with Kyle. “I’m almost to my goal,” he promises.
“This is the time. If I don’t do it now, maybe I won’t get a second chance. I feel like everything is falling into its place.”
It’s scary to think that through more than 30 professional wins, Gegard Mousasi hasn’t even tapped into his real potential yet.
Despite picking up wins over some of the world’s best at both middleweight and light heavyweight, Mousasi is the first to admit that in the past he’s not been as serious about his training as he should have been.
But in the last year, with no fights on the horizon and healing up from various injuries, Mousasi has found a new fire lit inside of him, and he’s hoping to unleash it at Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine this weekend when he faces Mike Kyle.
“It was difficult, but it was also good because I was not motivated, and now I have that drive again. I really want to show everybody what I can do. That’s a plus point and I’m focusing on that,” Mousasi told MMAWeekly Radio about the time off he’s had lately.
“The training I’m doing now, I’m a lot more professional and I really had a good training camp. I had good trainers, good sparring partners, so everything fell in place. It wasn’t like clowning around a lot so it gave me good motivation to show what I can really do.”
When he’s on point, Mousasi remains one of the most dangerous fighters in the world at 205 pounds, and if his training really was less than the best before now, he could become an even bigger threat when he moves to the UFC.
With Strikeforce closing its doors after Saturday night’s event, Mousasi now has a goal of debuting in the Octagon later this year and showing the world what he can do when fully prepared and motivated.
The only way to ensure a trip to the UFC, however, is to beat Mike Kyle this weekend.
“The main focus is actually this fight because you never know because you have to perform and I have to win. After that, I think going to the UFC is the plan, and after talking to my management it should be a done deal. First I have a fight with Strikeforce and that’s the most important thing,” said Mousasi.
It’s hard not to anticipate some of the potential match-ups for Mousasi in the UFC, and even he loves to hear fans theorizing and plotting out fights for him. There is a lot of talent in the UFC and Mousasi is ready to face all of them.
“I’m glad the fans are excited about the fights, especially stand-up fighters like Shogun (Rua), (Lyoto) Machida, or (Alexander) Gustafsson, I think those are fights that are going to be exciting,” Mousasi stated.
It’s not enough though for Mousasi to just be another face in the crowd or an exciting fighter who goes through the ebb and flow of victories and defeats. No, Mousasi wants to be defined as a top contender and eventually a challenger to Jon Jones and the UFC light heavyweight title.
“That’s my goal to show that I am in the top five or the top three (in the world),” Mousasi stated.
“I feel like I have the potential and with the right training and the right mentality I can do it, and I feel that way right now. January 12 is the date I will show it.”
Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Gegard Mousasi will join us to preview his fight against Mikey Kyle at the final Strikeforce show on Saturday.
STUDIO MMA, RIVERSIDE, CA – Gegard Mousasi, former Strikeforce and DREAM light heavyweight champion, faces Mike Kyle at Strikeforce’s final event on January 12 in Oklahoma City. StudioMMA.com’s own Marcus Kowal recently interviewed “The Dreamcatcher”. Talking about his upcoming opponent, taking training more serious, who he would like to fight in the UFC, and much more:
Written by: Steven Fothergill | for studiomma.com
MMA H.E.A.T.’s Karyn Bryant talks via Skype with former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champ Gegard Mousasi and hears what he has to say about his upcoming fight with Mike Kyle, set to take place at the final Strikeforce event on January 12, 2013. Gegard talks about his newfound motivation for training, his recovery from a knee injury and how he feels about his career in the soon-to-be-defunct fight organization. In addition, he lets us know who he would like to fight if/when he is migrated over to the UFC.