Everyone has a friend who’s kind of like Gegard Mousasi.
He’s the guy who comes to your Saturday night bowling outing, posts a score of 195 (despite not having done it in years), and sheepishly shrugs his shoulders on the way back to his seat.
You’re buying his drinks the rest of the night because he’s been blessed with whatever requisite combination of physical ability and mental acumen allows someone to succeed in just about any sporting endeavor. He’s seemingly good at whatever he tries, even when it looks like he isn’t trying. And he knows it.
So what would happen if he employed a laser-like focus on bowling and only bowling? What if he hired the best coaches in the world, studied film of his motions, and was on the lanes four hours a day, six days a week alongside other elite bowlers, for a number of years?
To quote Calvert Munson, father of Woody Harrelson’s character Roy in the movie “Kingpin,” well, “You put that in a bottle, you got something sweeter than Yoo-hoo.”
The 27-year-old Mousasi has been formulating his concoction not on the lanes, but in the realm of MMA for nearly a decade. It’s been sweet at times, the converse on occasion, and everywhere in between.
To this day nobody knows quite what to make of him – what his motivations may or may not be, his training habits, various highs and lows in the cage (or ring), his general disposition.
Frankly, it’s part of his charm.
“I just go in and do my job the best I can and take care of my family,” Mousasi told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “That’s how I see it.”
Competing and making a living doing so is what gets him going. The training is a perfunctory exercise. It’s a necessary evil.
“I don’t think I have a passion for [training],” Mousasi said. “I have been taking it easy in the past. But for the last fight (a submission win over Mike Kyle in Strikeforce), I trained very well for it, and I think the result was there.
“I have been training (all along). But I think the quality of the training and people pushing me, stuff like that, I have lacked in the past.”
Mousasi (33-3-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) appears to have turned a corner. He made sure he had a coach for each discipline and proper sparring on a consistent basis for the Kyle fight. He didn’t really have either prior to it.
It has continued in his preparations for Alexander Gustafsson (15-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC). The pair – for now – is scheduled to headline UFC on FUEL TV 9, which takes place Saturday at Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm. As recently reported, Gustafsson recently suffered a facial cut and could be pulled from the card. But for now, both light heavyweights remain on the card.
In preparation for the fight, the Netherlands-based Mousasi has split time between Chakuriki Gym and Bert Kops’ Gym in Amsterdam, in addition to his work at Team Jurojin in Leiden. He also travels to Rotterdam for strength and conditioning.
He’d offer up a regret or two about his previous setups, but he doesn’t have any. He’s always been comfortable training in and around the Netherlands the vast majority of the time, which is where he’s lived since his family left Iran when he was 4 years old.
Mousasi has seen other top European fighters such as Gustafsson, Dan Hardy and Ross Pearson make the move to the U.S. in recent years to seek out elite training. That’s all well and good with him, but Mousasi knows it doesn’t necessarily correlate with success.
“I see a lot of people training at famous gyms, but that doesn’t mean they’re winning their fights,” he said. “You can do it wherever you are. I don’t think you have to be training with the very best fighter to win your fight. You can train in Siberia and you can do it.”
You could even be the best fighter on the planet with the best resources at your disposal, and it still might not matter.
“It’s a fight,” Mousasi said. “You can get caught with a punch. (That) doesn’t mean your training was bad. Or you get caught in a submission. Anything can happen.”
Mousasi is also rare in that he’s one of those fighters with whom you’re never really sure what might happen when he takes his toolbox into the cage. At times he shows a lack of strategy and an unwillingness to stick to a game plan like he demonstrated against Keith Jardine. Or he’ll get taken down nearly a dozen times by Muhammad Lawal. Or he’ll fatigue late, get mounted, and lose a round to a developing prospect like Ovince St. Preux.
Other times, he’s brilliant. Exposing the chin of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza with a perfectly timed upkick. Controlling K-1 heavyweight champion Kyotaro almost single-handedly with his jab in a kickboxing match. Pummeling Renato “Babalu” Sobral with ground-and-pound strikes and turning his lights out in a minute flat in his U.S. debut.
And then there’s that puzzling demeanor of his.
Outside the cage Mousasi is a man of few words, but he has a friendly personality and a good sense of humor. Inside the cage is a different story. It’s impossible to identify any nonverbal cues, which is all by design, of course. He’s certified stolid.
“I don’t have any emotions (on fight night),” Mousasi said. “I’m not angry. I’m not happy. It’s just fighting.”
Early in his combat sports career, he fought with a great deal of aggression, but he learned over time it was counterproductive. As far back as anyone can remember, he’s showed up to A fight looking like he just woke up from a peaceful nap. His former training partner and friend Fedor Emelianenko was the same way.
Collectively, the head-scratching material (for lack of a better descriptor), which makes Mousasi who he is, has lead to an underlying perception that he flat out doesn’t care. He looks and sounds like he’d rather be doing something else. He’s not committed, the detractors say. He’s simply coasting on his natural gifts.
So is he aware of how he’s viewed by a healthy slice of the MMA community?
“I don’t know, maybe,” Mousasi said with a laugh. “I don’t care.”
Did you get that? He doesn’t care that you think he doesn’t care. That’s beautiful.
But let’s not kid ourselves. He has to have been doing a lot of things right. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou has all the physical gifts in the world, trains at a high-level gym in Team Quest, and by all accounts, is dedicated to his craft.
But Sokoudjou doesn’t need a room addition to his house for all the hardware he’s accumulated over the years. Mousasi has an amateur boxing title, middleweight MMA titles in Cage Warriors and DREAM, and light heavyweight titles in DREAM and Strikeforce.
The thing about Mousasi is you don’t have to try to figure him out. It’s better just to sit back and see what transpires. The never-ending contrasts are what make him a compelling figure.
“A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” as Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker once described him.
Actually, that was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill describing Russia in 1939, but it’s still apropos.
One piece of hardware Mousasi is still missing is a UFC championship belt. He’s never had the opportunity. He doesn’t believe a win over Gustafsson will be enough to earn a shot at it, but he wouldn’t turn it down either. He’s interested in Lyoto Machida as an opponent if everything plays out like he expects.
A win over Gustafsson would validate him in many ways. It would quiet many of those who have questioned him in one form or another over the years – the ones who are likely predicting it will all finally catch up to him once he sees high-level competition on a regular basis in the UFC.
“Let’s see how this fight goes, and let’s see how people react after this,” a confident Mousasi said.
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