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Bellator champ Rafael Carvalho: Gegard Mousasi’s biggest problem ‘is that he’s so self-confident’

Rafael Carvalho faces Gegard Mousasi at Bellator 200.
Bellator MMA

Rafael Carvalho may not be the most known fighter under Bellator contract, but his reign as the promotion’s middleweight champion has been a violent and lengthy one, and he doesn’t intend for it to end any time soon.

As he approaches his third full year owning Bellator’s 185-pound belt, Carvalho will meet his toughest test to date on May 25 when he attempts to defend his title against Gegard Mousasi in the co-main event of Bellator 200. A longtime UFC contender, Mousasi was one of Bellator’s prized free agent signings in 2017, a former Strikeforce and DREAM champion who exited the Octagon riding a five-fight winning streak over the likes of Chris Weidman, Vitor Belfort, and Uriah Hall. But Mousasi struggled in his Bellator debut against Alexander Shlemenko, and Carvalho thinks that could be a sign of things to come.

“I believe [Mousasi’s] biggest problem,” Carvalho said through a translator ahead of Bellator 200, “is that he’s so self-confident.”

Mousasi isn’t the first UFC transplant to start his Bellator run in rough form. From Benson Henderson to Lorenz Larkin to Chael Sonnen, several of Bellator’s key UFC acquisitions over recent years have initially struggled after switching homes.

But while all three of those examples lost their Bellator debuts, Mousasi did not. He defeated Shlemenko — albeit in controversial fashion — and also owns an eye-popping résumé of combat sports excellence that spans across 15 years, so Mousasi isn’t worried about coming off as overconfident in his new digs.

“If you don’t think you’re going to win, then you should do something else,” Mousasi said in response to Carvalho. “Of course I believe I’m going to win. I respect my opponents, I think highly of Carvalho, but of course I think I’m going to win. Otherwise why should I fight?”

Altogether, the 31-year-old Carvalho and 32-year-old Mousasi represent two of the very best Bellator’s middleweight division has to offer.

The Brazilian champion is a perfect 6-0 under the Bellator umbrella, owning four knockouts and notable wins over Brandon Halsey, Joe Schilling, and Melvin Manhoef (x2). In his most recent outing last December, Carvalho needed just 44 seconds defend his title with a vicious first-round assault over UFC veteran Alessio Sakara.

Mousasi, on the other hand, is one of the most well-traveled world-class fighters in the sport, having found success in virtually ever major promotion over the past two decades. Picking up a middleweight strap in Bellator would only further add to his legacy, so Mousasi is well aware of what’s at stake when he meets Carvalho in London, England.

“I’m very hungry,” Mousasi said. “This is for the belt, I’ve done everything right to win the belt. So it’s a fight, you go there, and then you never know. Sometimes you think you’re going to have an easy fight, you have the toughest fight. Sometimes you have a tough opponent, you have an easy night. It’s a fight, so I’m prepared for five rounds, wherever the fight goes. But the belt means a lot, so I’m 100 percent ready for this fight.”

Mousasi said his body has recovered well since he suffered a nasty broken orbital bone in opening round of his Bellator debut against Shlemenko. He explained that his eye is “not at the place where it should be” in regards to his facial appearance, but it is nonetheless functionally intact. He joked that maybe after his fighting career is over, he could get the issue corrected if he wanted to be a model.

Mousasi also teased plans about what a win over Carvalho could mean in regards to his next step. Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald has already openly stated his desire to move up in weight and challenge for the 185-pound title, and a Mousasi vs. MacDonald superfight could be one of the most intriguing matchups Bellator could book.

“It’s in the plans,” Mousasi said about the potential bout. “If I win and if Rory wants to come up. Rory is a big name, he’s a good fighter, and people want to see that fight. But I have to win the belt first before I think about that.”

And that last point is most important.

Mousasi may have grand plans for his Bellator future, but they only come to fruition if he takes care of business Friday at Bellator 200.

And the division’s reigning champion isn’t planning on making that easy.

“This is our biggest challenge,” Carvalho said.

“So this is great for me.”