Gegard Mousasi is a guy who likes to stay busy. Since coming over to the UFC after Zuffa’s purchase of Strikeforce, the former Strikeforce and Dream champion has fought exactly once, though -- and the person he fought wasn’t the person they booked him against.
In fact, Ilir Latifi wasn’t a person anybody outside of Stockholm had ever heard of.
Mousasi was to have faced Alexander Gustafsson in Sweden that day in April, in a fight with undefined but real title implications. Days before the bout Gustafsson was forced out of the spot with a deep cut on his brow, leaving the UFC in a bind. Latifi filled in on short notice, and Mousasi cruised to a unanimous decision that left a lot to the imagination.
Afterwards Mousasi revealed that he had suffered a knee injury in training, a torn ACL, which hindered his performance. He said he didn't disclose it before hand because he wanted to compete. Since that time, it’s been nothing but one frustration after another for the Dutch fighter. Not only is Gustafsson fighting this coming weekend for the light heavyweight title at UFC 165 in Toronto, but Mousasi is slowly trying to recover from his knee injuries while politely being ignored by Vitor Belfort and, seemingly, everyone else.
On Monday’s edition of the MMA Hour, Mousasi explained some of that frustration.
"I’ve got a lot of disappointment," he told Ariel Helwani. "I really wanted that [Gustafsson] fight. I think, even though I was injured I felt good going into the fight. I felt he was a taller guy but I could close the distance very well, and I thought I could even take him down. I had a good game plan in my head, but yeah, that happens and I had the knee injury -- it’s all setbacks.
"I want to do MMA, I want to fight, and all I can do is wait and see how others do. That’s the hardest part, not being able to compete. I just want to come back and start fighting and then I can feel good again."
Mousasi has been expressive in that desire on Twitter, where he has challenged Belfort to a fight at light heavyweight, middleweight or anything in between. Instead, the UFC opted to book Belfort against Dan Henderson in November at UFC Fight Night 32 in Brazil.
When asked why he'd targeted Belfort specifically, Mousasi said it was solely because of his place in the pecking order.
"I thought he was the No. 1 guy, especially after his two impressive wins [over Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold]," he said. "That’s a guy you want to fight. I like him. I like Vitor Belfort. He’s a nice guy and I have nothing against him. But I want to go for the title shot and if I fight him and I win, that would get me a little bit closer to my goal. That’s it, nothing less.
"But he’s got his fight with Dan Henderson, and it’s not going to happen any more. So I’m just coming back and fighting some guy who is top three or who is famous who people think is good."
Mousasi was presented with a fight against Belfort a few years ago with the short-lived Affliction promotion, but Belfort didn’t accept it then, just as he wasn't exactly accepting it now.
"I said I can make it to 185, let’s do a catchweight," Mousasi recalls. "[Belfort] didn’t accept it, but he eventually went to the UFC and fought Rich Franklin at a catchweight. So that didn’t make sense. But he’s doing what is best for his career, I can’t blame him."
Mousasi said he didn’t think his and Belfort’s schedules would mesh once he’s ready to return. As for Mousasi’s timetable for recovery, he said the earliest he could return would be in December, but more likely January or February. Though he’s been cautious with his knee after injuring it twice, he feels it’s stable and coming along fine. When asked if he still intended to come back as a middleweight, which is where he has stated he’d like to fight upon his return, he said that’s still the plan.
"I think so," he said. "I’m already dropping weight. I gained a lot of weight, I was 230, 235 maybe even. For light heavyweight that’s not much, but for me that’s a lot. I’m coming down slowly. I’m not 220. Yeah, slowly dropping weight, every week two pounds. I’m already focusing on the fight."
Who that ends up being against is still up in the air. Asked if there was anybody specific in his cross hairs, Mousasi said it’s not his strong suit to call people out. However, he did reiterate that he wants a big name next, somebody preferably near the top of the division.
"I have no doubt in my abilities that I can beat any of the top ten guys," he said. "Once I’m focused I know I can beat them. I think people have their opinions."