Choosing Bellator MMA boiled down to one major factor for Gegard Mousasi: freedom.
Mousasi on Monday agreed to a six-fight contract with Bellator, closing the book on a four-year stay in the Ultimate Fighting Championship that included victories over former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson and onetime UFC champions Vitor Belfort and Chris Weidman. He exits the promotion having never fought for a title despite a stellar 10-3 record.
“It was about the opportunities I will get in Bellator,” Mousasi told Sherdog.com in an exclusive interview, the ink barely dry on his new deal. “I’ll have a say in a lot of things: sponsorships, the freedom to fight elsewhere if I want to. Who wouldn’t want that?”
Mousasi was complimentary toward the UFC, even as he elected to take his talents elsewhere.
“They made an offer,” he said. “They wanted to go up even more, but by the time that happened, they knew I was going to Bellator. The UFC treated me well. I have a good relationship with [UFC President] Dana White.”
The 31-year-old Mousasi finished his successful run in the UFC with five straight wins, defeating Thales Leites, Thiago Santos, Belfort, Uriah Hall and Weidman in succession. His first-round technical knockout against Hall in November avenged one of his three losses inside the Octagon.
“I think I accomplished a lot in the UFC,” Mousasi said. “Since [the United States Anti-Doping Agency] came in, I lost only to Uriah Hall. I beat all of them. I’m a better fighter than I was a couple of years ago, and I’m still young. A lot of the middleweights [in the UFC] are on the way out. They’re 40, and there’s drug testing.”
Mousasi has already captured titles in the Strikeforce, Cage Warriors Fighting Championship and Dream organizations. He joins a middleweight division in Bellator fronted by once-beaten champion Rafael Carvalho, former titleholder Alexander Shlemenk and others.
“The champion’s a good fighter. He’s only got one loss,” Mousasi said. “Shlemenko is there, Wanderlei [Silva] and Chael Sonnen. These are good fighters with big names. Rory MacDonald has talked about moving up to 185 [pounds]. There are plenty of fights to make.”
Mousasi admits the chance to work with Bellator President Scott Coker, his former boss in Strikeforce, played a role in his decision. He expects to make his Bellator debut in September or October and has his sights fixed on Carvalho. Recent free-agent signees Benson Henderson and Lorenz Larkin were both awarded title shots in their first appearance under the Bellator flag.
“I’d like to fight the champion [first], obviously,” Mousasi said, “but I don’t know if that’s something that’s going to happen.”
Bouts at 205 pounds, a weight at which “The Dreamcatcher” has excelled in the past, also appear to be on Mousasi’s radar.
“First, I want to be successful in the middleweight division,” he said. “I want to fight for [and] win the belt there and then move up.”