Europe's Best-Kept Secret

By Tim Leidecker Nov 24, 2007
He started boxing at age 15. Twelve months later he was the amateur boxing champion of the Netherlands. When he figured out that he wouldn't make it to the top of the sweet science in a country as small as Holland, he switched to kickboxing and eventually to mixed martial arts.

In MMA, success wasn't long in coming either. He debuted at 17, and two years later he was considered the biggest middleweight talent in Europe.

An invitation to Japan followed. In 2006, a career year, he won the title of PRIDE's "Golden Rookie of the Year" and also took home the Cage Warriors 185-pound world championship.

Yet, if you mention the name Gegard Mousasi (Pictures) to random MMA fans, you would most likely get a single response: Gegard who?

Mousasi was born to Armenian parents in war-torn Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. After the war, the family relocated to the peaceful college town Leiden between Amsterdam and The Hague in the Netherlands. There the lanky teenager finished grade school before even developing an interest in martial arts.

Boxing became his first love. He was so good he was even called up to the national team after winning his first amateur boxing title. But since the Dutch had not been able to produce a single outstanding boxer in the last 100 years while at the same time being the world's premier kickboxing nation, Mousasi switched sports.

At Jurojin Sportschool in Leiden, Mousasi was a diamond in the rough. He caught the attention of Apy Echteld, the president of Red Devil International -- the Dutch branch of the Russian fight team that includes Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) and his brother Aleksander.

Echteld immediately recognized the 18 year old's talent and started arranging fights abroad for him. Mousasi submitted Bodog Fight veteran Erik Oganov (Pictures) in the co-main event of an M-1 show in St. Petersburg in February 2005 to earn his first international merit. A loss to the much more experienced Lithuanian Petras Morkevicius didn't lead him astray, and after a couple of more victories, Japan called.

Mousasi still has fond memories of last year's Bushido Grand Prix.

"Performance wise, I know I could have done better," he says. "I honestly think I wasn't ready to fight at that level yet, and that's why I lost in the quarterfinal. That being said, I won two out of three matches in PRIDE and learned an awful lot. I was also very proud to be the youngest ever Grand Prix participant and that I convincingly beat [Olympic judo] gold medalist Makoto Takimoto (Pictures). PRIDE was a great organization, and I'm proud to have been a part of it."

With PRIDE no more, the man they called the "young vagabond" in Japan took his trade stateside. The move was not without hiccups, as he had to part ways with Jurojin after years of training at the gym.

"There were some ongoing issues that I won't get into right now," Mousasi says. "Suffice it to say that they weren't handled very well by either side, and we parted ways. But hey, shit happens. Another thing is the way I was training: I didn't think it was the right way to go about it, and therefore we're doing things differently at Sahinbas, where I train now."

At his new school, Mousasi has the reputation of a "Ronin," a masterless samurai, following the tradition of other self-trained fighters like former UFC champions Carlos Newton (Pictures) and Evan Tanner (Pictures).

"I don't really have an official trainer now, just a lot of friends who help me prepare for fights on a daily basis," Mousasi says. "It really is a quite capable team, with a black belt in judo, a wrestler and some BJJ guys, so I'm getting help in a lot of different areas. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them all for their help, especially my brother Gewik, Abdula, Jesse, Michael, Floris, Ricardo and Göksel."

Asked whether his brother Gewik might be jealous of the success he is enjoying -- a topic Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures), Mauricio Rua (Pictures) and Joe Lauzon (Pictures) can tell you a thing or two about -- Mousasi denies the possibility.

"Not at all," he answers. "My brother and my family are my life. We share everything together, from houses to cars. He helps me with my training regimen, and I want to do him proud, so there's no envy."

Most recently the Armenian knockout artist put on a very dominant performance against Croatian kickboxer Damir Mirenic in October at Hardcore Championship Fighting's "Title Wave."

"The fight went as planned," recalls Mousasi, who is now 22. "I successfully held the top position and I felt I was able to utilize some effective ground-and-pound. After the fight, Fedor told me that there are still some things that I have to work on to improve my performance, so in that area I suppose I'm still growing."

What's next for the upstart who has gone the distance just once in his more than 20-fight MMA career, which includes 18 wins, 11 knockouts and six submissions?

"I have received a contract offer from EliteXC and I'll be fighting for M-1 Global on a non-exclusive basis, so I will have the chance to keep fighting in promotions such as Hardcore Championship Fighting, Bodog Fight, the IFL and Strikeforce," Mousasi says. "All of this, however, is carefully taken care of by my manager. I just want to fight."
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