If Gegard Mousasi were to write the perfect script to accompany his entry into the UFC, the twists and often bizarre turns of the past 16 months would probably play out a bit differently on the page than they have so far.
Alexander Gustafsson wouldn't suffer a freak ax wound above his left eye a week out from Mousasi's debut, that's for sure. Ilir Latifi probably would remain a Swedish strongman myth, that nasty knee injury wouldn't have cast the unflappable Armenian assassin onto the sidelines for upwards of a year, and who knows, maybe Mousasi would be where Lyoto Machida is now, snatching Vitor Belfort's coveted spot on the biggest pay-per-view card of the summer.
But alas, if only things could be so easy. Instead Mousasi finds himself on the outside looking in, ranked outside of the UFC's middleweight top-10, and in a position where a second straight loss -- this time against Mark Munoz at UFC Fight Night 41 -- could signal a shift to his UFC career narrative in a way he'd probably like to avoid.
"I dealt with some pretty serious knee injuries, so it's been a slow start," Mousasi acknowledged in a conversation with MMAFighting.com. "But I feel 100-percent now, and if there's any fight I can show my skills, I think it's this Mark Munoz fight. I have to really show what I'm able to do.
"I know he's going to try to take me down, obviously. He's a tough fighter. He's a top-10 fighter, so it's going to be difficult. ... But it depends on the way I fight. If I go and throw wide haymakers, of course he's going to take me down easy. But if I know he's going to take me down, it's going to be a lot more difficult for him to take me down, so I know it's not going to be like the King Mo fight."
Prior to his setback against Machida, Mousasi's questionable loss to Lawal had been the only blemish on the former DREAM and Strikeforce champ's résumé since mid-2006, a run which spanned 23 remarkable performances around Asia and Europe, including a decision over Hector Lombard and a pair of first-round finishes over Mark Hunt and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza which ended in a combined 3:34.
"Both of those fights, mentally I did something wrong," Mousasi (34-4-2) said of his losses. "I think with Lyoto Machida, it was more of gameplan and strategy and adjusting to the fight.
"I was fighting one way and I wasn't able to adjust, and I did the same thing from round one to round five. If I was winning, that would've been good. But I was losing, and I was doing the same thing over and over all the time, so I needed to adjust and [switch up my strategy] when things weren't going my way."
While Machida took 14 of 15 rounds against Mousasi on the three judges' scorecards last February, the fight was decided by a far narrower margin than the final tally indicated, and the experience still proved invaluable to Mousasi in one respect: after fighting as a small light heavyweight for a majority of the past five years, the reintroduction to 185-pound limit gave the 28-year-old a chance to reacclimatize his body to the weight cutting that is commonplace among western circles.
"Every time you learn a little bit more. I know how to cut weight more now than I used to, so it's getting only better," Mousasi said. "Last time I lost a little bit of power, but this time I have a better diet and better nutrition, so this time I have more power. I feel much better going into the fight.
"I'm still going to be a little bit smaller because these guys cut a lot more weight than me, but it's not going to be so much that it's significant, that it's going to make a big difference. I'm going to be giving up a lot less of an advantage, so it's better for me, middleweight."
In Munoz (13-4), Mousasi faces a perennial contender very much caught at the same crossroads as himself. The wrestler has fallen short in two of his last three contests, albeit brutally, the most recent of which came against Machida via first-round head kick.
Of course, at age 36, Munoz's likely time left in the sport is far exceeded by Mousasi's own, as Mousasi believes that despite already being a veteran of well over 40 fights, he's just now reaching his prime.
For now, though, Munoz stands as another rung in the ladder the Dutch-Armenian knows he must once again climb in order to gain the respect he feels he deserves, after which he hopes to square his sights against one of his Strikeforce brethren, either Tim Kennedy or Luke Rockhold.
"If I win this one, I think it'll take two more," Mousasi said. "I think three fights, and I will get a title shot, but I think I have to win three times in a row.
"I'm always underrated. Even if I win the belt, I'm going to be underrated. It is what is it. Of course if I would've [beaten] Machida, I would've been very high. It got me a little bit down but we're going to get back up right now."