Gegard Mousasi has had a lot of time to think about his last outing in the Bellator cage.
Mousasi, the reigning Bellator middleweight champion, has been out of action since October, when he fended off Douglas Lima’s attempt at two-division glory at Bellator 250. Mousasi defeated Lima via unanimous decision to reclaim his 185-pound strap and become a two-time Bellator champion, although it wasn’t exactly the most exciting affair.
Ahead of his return on Friday at Bellator 264, Mousasi said on MMA Fighting’s What The Heck that he is still “not satisfied” with his win over Lima and finds himself eager to put his title on the line against John Salter because he expects Salter to bring the fight to him.
“I want to really get the finish this time because the last two fights were not finishes. I was just too tactical,” Mousasi said of Salter, who’s won three straight in Bellator.
“I expect a very high-paced fight, because at least the way I want to fight him is if he takes me down, I work constantly to get up. And in the standup, he’s not comfortable, so he will have to work for the takedowns constantly, and that’s going to drain his energy. So we’re going to fight high-paced so he gets tired and he gets tired from the takedowns, a little bit like Chris Weidman [at UFC 210]. Even if he takes me down in the later rounds, the takedown won’t be as explosive. It’s going to be much easier to defend the takedowns.”
More than anything else, though, Friday’s return is a welcome one for Mousasi (47-7-2) simply because it marks a chance for him to compete. He fought only once in 2020 and hasn’t fought more than twice a year since signing with Bellator in 2017.
At age 36, with the end of his career slowly approaching, Mousasi expressed frustration at his inactive schedule and said that he hopes to force the issue with promotion officials and compete on a more regular schedule after Bellator 264.
“I’m not getting younger, and with injuries I have to consider that. I want to stay busy when I’m healthy,” Mousasi said. “One injury is going to set me back another six months, maybe sometimes a year. So when my body is healthy, I want to fight as regularly as possible. But if I fight once a year, I’m aging and not fighting.
“It’s not up to me. I just want to fight and we’re going to push for that.”
One name who could be next for Mousasi if he gets by Salter is undefeated middleweight contender Austin Vanderford, who’s racked up a perfect 5-0 record inside the Bellator cage. Vanderford is currently the second-ranked middleweight behind Salter in Bellator’s promotional rankings and has called for a title shot since his May win over Fabian Edwards.
Mousasi is open to the fight, though when he considers the challenges he faced getting his latest bout booked, he wonders if Bellator will opt to go a different direction.
“He’s a tough opponent,” Mousasi said of Vanderford. “I had difficulty even to get John Salter because Bellator wants to put me against big names. I don’t blame anybody, I just [want to] fight the No. 1 contenders. Whoever it is, I will fight him.
“But ... Bellator hasn’t been putting [together] those fights. They would rather see me against Yoel Romero, let’s say, even if he’s on a losing streak, because he has a bigger name. So as a promotion, I understand that. So it’s not up to me. Austin Vanderford, I think he’s a phenomenal fighter. If Bellator gives him [a title shot], I would love to get the fight.”
Another option that could avail itself to Mousasi is a move back up to the light heavyweight division, where he competed during his days as Strikeforce champion. With names like Romero, Anthony Johnson, Corey Anderson, and Ryan Bader in the fold, Bellator’s light heavyweight roster is far more decorated than its middleweight lineup.
Mousasi said he’d welcome the challenge and would “100 percent” be willing to move up to 205 pounds fight the eventual winner of Bellator’s ongoing light heavyweight grand prix.
Romero dropped out of the tournament after failing a pre-fight medical exam in April, and that fight wouldn’t necessarily be appealing to Mousasi at 205 pounds anyway — “I can fight him at middleweight, why would I want to give him the advantage at light heavyweight?” Mousasi said — but there is one name in particular still alive in the bracket that Mousasi thinks would make for an interesting pairing if the grand prix plays out right.
“I think at light heavyweight Anthony Johnson would be the most favorable as a big name I would love to fight,” Mousasi said.
“I think he did well [in his MMA return at Bellator 258]. He’s still the same guy. He knocked out [Augusto]. Anthony Johnson’s not the most — he’s just powerful. He just knocks people out, and that’s what he did. But coming out of retirement, I think that was a good performance. He will get his rhythm back again.”