Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi made his UFC debut last year to little fanfare, defeating late replacement Ilir Latifi at UFC on Fuel TV 9 after his bout with Alexander Gustafsson fell apart.
It was then revealed that “The Dreamcatcher” needed surgery for a torn ACL which has kept him on the shelf since last April. But the wait was apparently worth it, as Mousasi will cut down to 185-pounds to face former UFC light heavyweight champ Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida in the main event of February 15’s UFC Fight Night 36 in Jaragua du Sol, Brazil.
Mousasi appeared on today’s edition of "The MMA Hour” to discuss his pivotal bout with Machida, noting that his knee injury has fully healed:
“No, luckily I’m one hundred percent. Knee’s one hundred percent, so I’m ready to go.”
With that established, Mousasi moved on to discuss his strategy in preparing for Machida, who is regarded as one of the most dangerous counter strikers in all of MMA:
“He’s a very different fighter than your typical standup fighter. He’s a more counter-puncher, but he comes low inside himself sometimes, so he’s vulnerable for counter-punching himself sometimes. I understand better now how he fights. He has his mistakes, but he’s a smart fighter. He lures you in. I studied him very well; I know how I can deal with it. You have to be smart and make no mistakes because he’s dangerous if you lose your control or get too aggressive and leap into your punches.”
Mousasi makes some good points and it seems like he has an intelligent gameplan in place. His diverse body of worldwide mixed martial arts experience will undoubtedly lend to him keeping his cool against a razor-sharp competitor like Machida.
Machida recently made his own middleweight debut by knocking out former training partner Mark Munoz with a first round headkick at UFC Fight Night 30 last October. Mousasi watched the fight but noted that it wasn’t enough of a sample size to draw a decisive conclusion from, noting that he’s ready to take on “The Dragon” wherever the fight goes:
“It was a good fight. His last performance was a good performance, but other than that, I have not seen a lot. I’m sure if he gets the opportunity, he will take me down; so will I. I feel very comfortable on the ground, so it’s not going to be an issue if he takes me down. I’m planning to get right back up and even take him down if possible.”
Mousasi may be mostly known for his top-level striking, but he does have a well-rounded game that includes an underrated submission skillset. While most believe that this bout will be largely contested on the feet, it sounds like Mousasi is ready for whatever “The Dragon” throws his way.
After 10 months off, however, it’s never easy to jump right back into the title mix by facing an opponent of Machida’s caliber. Still, Mousasi is excited for the opportunity, noting he can potentially lock up a coveted 185-pound title shot by defeating Machida:
“I’m excited. Maybe I can get a title shot after this because there’s not many contenders at middleweight at this moment, I believe. I think I’m more excited, and this is a fight I cannot lose. This is a fight I must win, and this is the mentality I go into the fight (with). I heard from my manager that I could be the (next) number one contender.”
Unranked at middleweight but still at No. 9 in the light heavyweight rankings, Mousasi can certainly make a case for the next 185-pound title shot if he can get past “The Dragon.”
No. 3-ranked (and surging) middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza will also fight at UFN 36, facing off against unheralded but nonetheless dangerous TriStar Gym product Francis “Limitless” Carmont in the co-main event. “Jacare” will be hard to deny if he notches yet another first round finish and either Mousasi or Machida wins a decision. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens in Brazil.
The middleweight title picture will be figured out later this spring when champion Chris Weidman defends his belt against arguably the hottest fighter in MMA, Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort. Barring any immediate rematches after that fight, who do you think will be the next to contend for middleweight gold?