Rafael Carvalho has the longest tenure among the current Bellator champions, going for his fourth title defense in less than three years as the middleweight kingpin, but feels that Friday’s Bellator 200 main event against Gegard Mousasi is the moment that everything will finally change for him.
Carvalho successfully defended his 185-pound against Melvin Manhoef (twice) and Alessio Sakara, improving to 6-0 under the Bellator banner with four knockout stoppages, but for some people he hasn’t beaten a true top middleweight contender yet.
If victorious against Mousasi in London, Carvalho think fans will finally see him as a force in the division.
“I think this fight will be the first cherry on top of the cake,” Carvalho told MMA Fighting. “A cake doesn’t have only one cherry on top, but many cherries, and this will be the first cherry I will put on top of the cake.”
Fans might not see him as a top middleweight, but how about his Bellator 200 opponent? Asked if Mousasi gives him respect, the 31-year-old Brazilian has mixed feelings.
Carvalho is kind of offended that the UFC veteran has already mentioned post-Bellator 200 match-ups even even before facing him, but expects him to fight more cautiously when they meet inside the cage.
“He already sees himself as the champion in his interviews, making plans of fighting (Bellator welterweight champion) Rory MacDonald like if I didn’t even existed, like if I was nothing,” Carvalho said. “He has to respect me, I’m here for a long time. I felt disrespected. I never disrespected him. The only thing I’ve said is that he has to get through me to get the belt, and this mission won’t be as easy as he thinks.”
Mousasi was on a roll when he left the UFC in 2017 with four straight knockout wins over Chris Weidman, Uriah Hall, Vitor Belfort and Thiago Santos, but Carvalho expects a different Mousasi at Bellator 200, like the one who fought Shlemenko in October.
“He knew about the Russian’s firepower, knew he was dangerous,” Carvalho said of Mousasi’s close win over Shlemenko. “They thought the Russian would be an easy fight for him but it was complicated, and I think he will be more cautious against me, trying to wrestle more, but I’ve closed all the gaps in my game and he won’t surprise me.”
“Chris Weidman and Belfort were better match-ups for him,” he continued. “I’m a striker. He’s a striker, too, but also has good takedowns, but a lot will happen before we get to that point. He will be more cautious against me, I think.”
Mousasi was awarded a shot at the Bellator belt after defeating Shlemenko via decision in his promotional debut, adding another victory to his record after leaving the UFC on a five-fight winning streak. However, Carvalho doesn’t think the former Strikeforce and Dream champion had done enough in the Bellator cage yet to deserve the opportunity to fight him.
“I already expected my next fight to be against him because of his name, not because of his performance in the fight [against Shlemenko],” Carvalho said. “I don’t think he deserved it, but it’s not my call. But that’s good for me because that’s a fight I wanted. He’s a big name and a tough athlete, and my name will be bigger when I win this fight.”
Coming off back-to-back knockouts in his most recent title defenses in Italy, Carvalho expects to leave Europe with another win, but won’t be surprised if he’s unable to become only the second fighter to ever knock out the 51-fight veteran.
“I believe it will be a five-round war and whoever imposes the rhythm will come out victorious,” Carvalho said. “I worked hard on my technique and cardio to be able to fight five rounds and dictate the pace for 25 minutes and put on a high-level performance to win.”