Photo by Josh Hedges/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images
It was a little more than three months ago, prior to his complete domination of Mark Munoz at UFC Fight Night 41, that I labeled Mousasi a middleweight gatekeeper, and ever since, he’s been making me eat my words, figuratively kicking the lines of a Fightland article right back into my yapper.
But forcibly shutting people up with his feet is nothing new to Gegard Mousasi…
An adept kick boxer from the Netherlands, Mousasi, 29, has been competing in professional mixed martial arts since the tender age of 17, racking up 35 career wins, 30 of which have come via stoppage. He owns impressive victories over the likes of Hector Lombard, Mark Hunt, and Renato “Babalu” Sobral, the latter from whom he took the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship.
Mousasi was also the Dream light heavyweight champ, and prior to that the Dream middleweight titleholder, which is where he earned his most impressive career win, a victory over his upcoming UFC Fight Night 50 foe Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, whom he faces on September 5. And much in the same way Mousasi swiftly punted the hasty words I wrote for this very website back in my face, he delivered a swift and surprising upkick to knock Souza out cold in their previous encounter.
Heading into their previous meeting at Tokyo’s Saitama Super Arena, both Mousasi and Souza were in the midst of ten-fight winning streaks. Touted as two of MMA’s brightest upcoming talents not fighting in the UFC at the time, they represented the best aspects of mixed martial arts, Mousasi in his feet, Souza on the ground. But two minutes into their first encounter, it looked like Souza’s Brazilian jiu jitsu prowess would ultimately prove superior.
Until, out of nowhere, Mousasi, grounded on his back, landed an upkick flush against Souza’s jaw as he was attempting to pass guard, completely knocking him out cold. The win was one of the more absurd finishes in MMA history, and a very clear lesson to never be too overzealous when trying to keep your opponent on the ground.
With the win, his heel cracking Souza’s chin with perfection and precision, Mousasi was named the Dream middleweight champion. And while many considered the finish to be a bit of a fluke, Mousasi continued his championship form, earning the Strikeforce 205-pound belt in 2009.
However, shortly thereafter, the feet that took Mousasi to his biggest career win also began to fail him.
Photo by Boris Streubel/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
First came a 2010 defeat to Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, where Mousasi lost the Strikeforce strap. Deducted a point for an illegal upkick, Mousasi dropped a decision to a wrestle-and-clinch-centric Lawal.
Then came a draw with Keith Jardine in 2011, where, for the second time in a year, a point was taken from Mousasi on account of an upkick. It’s as if the very move that made his happy feet some of the best known in mixed martial arts was now turning its back on Mousasi.
The upkick technique was proving too risky for Mousasi, who, at this point was three wins away from his UFC debut. But the lessons learned from the infractions helped Mousasi rely more on his sophisticated standup and ever-improving ground game, eliminating the need for upkicks altogether.
Now set for his rematch against Souza, Mousasi is tasked with the biggest hurdle of his 11-year professional career. The winner of this bout will most certainly be the next in line to compete for the 185-pound title after Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort do battle in December; never has so much been on the line for Mousasi.
But how will he fair against Souza the second time?
According to odds makers, Souza enters the fight as a heavy favorite, riding a trio of wins of over Francis Carmont, Yushin Okami, and Chris Camozzi. Mousasi, on the other hand, is 2-1 under the UFC banner, taking contests over Munoz and Ilir Latifi, losing only to former UFC light heavyweight champ, and middleweight contender, Lyoto Machida.
Mousasi seems to be relegated to the land of minimal respect, where his quiet demeanor allows people to underestimate him, especially in a middleweight division full of boisterous characters like Tim Kennedy, Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping, and Belfort. He may not say much, he may not show any emotion, but Gegard Mousasi is a very real, very serious threat to anyone in his weight class.
And every time I realize this, I’m forced to revisit my own miscalculation–back when I believed Gegard Mousasi was just another middling 185-pounder keeping the challenger seat warm for more a more deserving suitor.
I was wrong to judge Mousasi back in May, and he’ll continue to let me know it, consistently and aggressively kicking my own words right back into my mouth. Now let’s see if he can use those heavy feet to kick up a little dust, not only against Souza, but against the entire middleweight class.
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