John Salter knew his time was coming.
The veteran has spent the past six years carving out a name for himself in Bellator’s middleweight division, compiling an 8-1 record to set up a title shot against Gegard Mousasi that goes down at Bellator 264 this Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
Salter finished his first five Bellator opponents before losing to Rafael Lovato Jr., a setback that blocked Salter’s first chance to book a fight with Mousasi (Lovato went on to defeat Mousasi in a title fight). He’s rebounded with three straight wins including a decision nod over Mousasi protege Costello van Steenis, but after Mousasi regained the title “The Dreamcatcher” would go on to book his first title defense against welterweight champion Douglas Lima.
That didn’t sit well with Salter, who understood the situation, but believes he should have been called first.
“Obviously, I was upset,” Salter said on What the Heck. “I thought it should have been me and Gegard fighting for the title there. But at the same time, Lima had kind of cleared out the welterweight division for a little while so that’s when it’s acceptable for someone to jump up a weight class. Then he had a tough fight coming up after that.
“I understood it, but was obviously upset because I think I was the guy that should have been right there ready to fight for it.”
Having not fought in a year, Salter has had plenty of time to prepare for Mousasi and game plan for the legendary striker’s inimitable style. On paper, Friday’s main event looks to be a classic grappler vs. striker matchup, which means Salter is determined not to fall for Mousasi’s tried-and-true techniques.
“I think just once again it was kind of the same thing that we always see is that Gegard is able to pull people into his fight base and lull people into what he wants to happen,” Salter said of the Mousasi’s win over Lima. “We saw it with Rory MacDonald, we saw it with Lima, you see it a lot of times when he fights that he kind of just pulls people into what he does and guys never get out of that once they get sucked in. I think that’s kind of what happened to Lima. He just never really got going because Gegard never gave him an opportunity.”
This will be just the second title fight of Salter’s career. A decade ago, he won the Armageddon Fighting Championship middleweight title with a knockout of Khalib Starnes following appearances for Strikeforce and the UFC.
It would have been easy to write Salter off as a journeyman given the uneven start to his career and he sees the possibility of capturing a Bellator title and joining the short list of fighters to defeat Mousasi—the No. 4-ranked middleweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings—as a chance for him to put a stamp on his resume that can’t be ignored.
“It just shows where I belong in the sport,” Salter said. “This puts me where I think I should be and that’s all I’m looking for is an opportunity to do that.”