As appearances go, Gegard Mousasi didn’t cut an impressive figure standing across the cage from Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos the night of Feb. 1, 2008, in Calgary.
The two met in Alberta, Canada, on a Hardcore Championship Fighting show, and while his record was not as impressive as Mousasi’s 18-2-1 tally, Santos’ experience against fighters like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Yuki Kondo made him an easy favorite over the Armenian-Dutch kid. His craggy face, cold demeanor, and tattooed, action-figure physique recalled Santos’ teammate Wanderlei Silva and gave the impression that it was going to be a short night for Cyborg and a long one for Mousasi. But it was the “Young Vagabond” who left the cage a victor that night, starting one of the most impressive 1-year runs in modern MMA history.
Known for his Dutch-flavored muay Thai, Mousasi peppered Santos with kicks before tossing him on his back, where he controlled the Brazilian from side mount, secured a crucifix to render Santos defenseless, and pummeled his opponent’s face until the referee stopped the bout. It was the 15th first-round finish of Mousasi’s career but just his first signature win.
The next month, Mousasi dispatched Steve Mensing at 2:44 of the first round of an M-1 Mixfight bout in Holland, and the young Middleweight was slated for Dream’s inaugural Middleweight Grand Prix. Likely booked as an “opponent” for popular veteran Denis Kang, Mousasi reeled off a quartet of victories that left him bedecked with belts and solidified his reputation as a top-10 middleweight in the process.
In April, Kang took Mousasi to the ground but allowed his opponent to control his hands while falling into guard and Mousasi applied an airtight triangle choke. Two months later, Mousasi dominated Dong Sik Yoon, earning a decision victory for just the second time. In September, Mousasi needed less than 4 minutes of ring time to force fearsome striker Melvin Manhoef to tap out due to triangle choke before knocking out renowned grappler Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza with an upkick to win the tournament.
During the tournament run, Mousasi demonstrated high-level striking and grappling, fluidly transitioning between the two to exploit his opponents’ weaknesses. When Affliction announced that it had signed Mousasi, a member of Red Devil’s International Team and client of M-1’s Vadim Finkelstein, American fans began salivating. Soon after the signing was announced, Mousasi talked about using Affliction’s relationship with Golden Boy to kick-start a boxing career, letting his frame fill out to compete as a light heavyweight in MMA, and competing on Affliction’s “Day of Reckoning” card in January.
That fight never materialized, and Mousasi instead took a K-1 rules match on New Year’s Eve against kickboxing star Musashi at Fields’ K-1 Dynamite!!, dropping the Japanese champion three times in the first round. The win was Mousasi’s seventh in 2008, yet Dream’s Middleweight champion spent little more than 30 minutes in the ring.
After a flurry of activity last year, Mousasi has done little more than vacate his Dream title and announce a move to light heavyweight in 2009. Mousasi is slated to face super heavyweight Mark Hunt in the first round of the Super Hulk Tournament at Dream.9. A melding of New Year’s Eve freak show matches and Pride’s open weight Grand Prix, Super Hulk pits light heavyweight and heavy weight fighters against so-called giants.
The Super Hulk Tournament bracket is filled out by matches featuring Ikuhisa “Minowaman” Minowa vs. Bob Sapp, Jose Canseco vs. Hong Man Choi, and Jan Nortje vs. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. Additionally, Jason “Mayhem” Miller with meet the man who defeated him in last year’s Dream Middleweight Grand Prix, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, for Mousasi’s vacated title, Gesias “JZ” Calvancante will face Tatsuya Kawajiri in a co-main event bout and Dream’s featherweight grand prix continues with the following match-ups: Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto vs. Joe Warren, Yoshiro Maeda vs. Hiroyuki Takaya, Bibiano Fernandez vs. Masakazu Imanari.
The Super Hulk Tournament will likely produce entertaining highlights but hardcore fans will have to wait for Mousasi to take on more meaningful opponents. The UFC has a stranglehold on the top fighters 185# and 205#, but Mousasi isn’t lacking for strong opponents elsewhere. There are a number of good light heavyweights under non-exclusive contracts that he could meet at Affliction, Dream, or Strikeforce events, including Renato Sobral, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Tito Ortiz, Vladimir Matyushenko, Mike Whitehead, Kevin Randleman, and Trevor Prangley.
If Mousasi chooses to drop back down to middleweight, Vitor Belfort, Melvin Manhoef, Murilo Rua, “Jacare,” Miller, Cung Le, and Robby Lawler are there waiting for him. Throw in fighters under contract with World Victory Road and there are interesting fights possible with Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal at light heavyweight and Jorge Santiago, Kazuo Misaki at middleweight.
Whatever Mousasi’s next step, it’s likely to be more deliberate and drawn out than his fast track trip to the top.
Dream.9 will be broadcast live on HDNet on Tues., May 26 at 5 a.m. EST / 2 a.m. PST. The event will be re-broadcast on Fri., May 29 at 10 p.m. EST / 7 p.m. PST.
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