It took 70 seconds for Gegard Mousasi to defeat Dan Henderson when they fought back in 2015, but a lot has changed since. Mousasi is facing Vitor Belfort, who also defeated Henderson, at Manchester’s UFC 204, while "Hendo" takes on the 185-pound champ in the main event.
Mousasi is not the type of guy who likes to promote himself outside the cage with talking, but tried to become more like UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor ahead of Saturday night’s clash with "The Phenom."
"Oh, yeah, people say to me all the time ‘you should say this, you should say that,’" Mousasi told MMA Fighting. "I tried. I said once a lot of stuff about Vitor Belfort and I regretted it already because that’s just not me, you know? What can I do? It’s difficult to pretend I’m somebody just to go ahead and get the title shot or maybe go ahead of some people that are in front of me.
"You have now McGregor fighting Eddie Alvarez while he didn’t do so well in that division. He lost one, and his victory over Nate Diaz wasn’t, let’s say, an impressive one, but he gets the title shot. It doesn’t have anything to do with sports. It’s more entertainment. You know, you have to accept that. It’s more about who’s popular, who’s gonna do well with the numbers. It’s not always fair."
Mousasi entered the Octagon twice this year, most recently stopping Thiago Santos in devastating fashion at UFC 200. Facing the third Brazilian in a row in 2016, Mousasi hopes to jump at least four spots in the middleweight rankings with a win in Manchester, but won’t waste any energy thinking about title shots right now.
"I’m not thinking about it because Michael Bisping is the champion, and then you have No. 1 to No. 4, all the top guys are before me," he said, "so I have first Vitor Belfort ahead of me, and then probably another guy, and then maybe I can think about the title shot. It’s a little bit far away from me to think about title shot. I’ll see how it goes.
"They dropped me one (spot) now, Derek Brunson is ahead of me. Vitor is No. 5. Even when we’re fighting now, I’m the favorite. People expect me to be the winner. The ranking doesn’t mean a lot. If I beat him, I should at least be the No. 5, but, you know, that’s not up to me."
Getting a big knockout and an extra bonus for his win over "Marreta" at UFC 200 helped Mousasi get a chance against Belfort, he says, and that’s the type of fight he was chasing for year.
Mousasi tried to step in the ring against the Brazilian when "The Phenom" was fighting for Affliction in 2008 and 2009, but the match-up never came to fruition. Belfort ended up signing with the UFC later that year, and Mousasi, who became the DREAM middleweight champ in 2008, won nine out of 11 bouts before finally entering the Octagon for the first time.
"I didn’t ask for the fight. It came along with Affliction, they wanted to make a catchweight fight, and that’s how it started," explains Mousasi, who also fought as light heavyweight back then. "They asked me who I wanted to fight, I felt Vitor was one of the big names, and that’s the way it came. He’s a good match-up for me style-wise. Vitor is a legend and I’m looking forward to fight him. Especially a win against him, he has such a big name. I’m looking forward to this fight."
Seven years have passed since Belfort left Affliction for the UFC, and Mousasi sees him with different eyes.
"Since he went to the UFC, Vitor has one of the best knockouts in the UFC, so of course he’s a bigger name than he was," he said. "And for me, I feel now it’s my time. Nothing is gonna stop me from going forward."
Mousasi has also campaigned to fight the Brazilian for the past few years, and admits that facing him in 2016, when the Brazilian is not allowed to use testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) anymore, is an advantage.
"Of course it’s gonna make difference he doesn’t have, let’s say, when you’re on TRT," Mousasi said. "He doesn’t have that advantage. It counts. 100 percent, definitely helps. He’s not gonna be the same."
Belfort is looking to get back on track after losing to Ronaldo Souza in May. "The Phenom" suffered his first loss in a non-title fight in 10 years against "Jacare" at UFC 198, but Mousasi won’t think he’s going downhill only because he lost to Souza.
"‘Jacare’ is one of the best guys out there," Mousasi said. "A loss against him doesn’t mean that Vitor is fading or he’s not the same guy. Maybe he doesn’t look that great, but he’s still a very dangerous guy, still explosive in the first round, experienced. It doesn’t say a lot. The next Vitor can be sharp, can be one of the better Vitors, so I’m just focusing on the best Vitor that will show up.
"I don’t know (how I’m going to win), but I foresee it will go to the decision or I finish him very early," he continued. "It depends on what he does. It all depends on him. If he comes and, let’s say, on the ground he’s very active, he’s gonna see me very active. If he’s just holding on, I’m not gonna give him any space to do anything. It depends on what’s Vitor gonna do. I know I’m gonna bring the fight to him and that’s gonna make the difference between me and him."