HyeFighter Gegard Mousasi, the Dream light-heavyweight champion, always wants to be exciting, but these days he’ll settle for a victory regardless of its entertainment value.
Mousasi’s first defense of his title belt is scheduled for Sunday at Dream 17 in Tokyo, where he’s slated to face undersized light-heavyweight Hiroshi Izumi (4-1). Though his judo resume includes an Olympic silver medal and world championship, Izumi goes into the bout as a heavy underdog, the depleted nature of Dream’s 205-pound ranks leaves the promotion with few viable opponents for Mousasi (30-3-2), a former champion in Strikeforce. For this fight, Mousasi will have fellow HyeFighter Roman Mitichyan in his corner. Mitichyan, a former UFC fighter and a cast member of The Ultimate Fighter Season 6, is a Judo/Sambo practitioner who will be bringing the Judo aspect to team Mousasi.
But these days, Mousasi simply wants to stay busy. With Strikeforce only offering him two fights a year, Mousasi looks back to the country and promotion where he first established himself as an elite fighter. A four-man light-heavyweight tournament in Dream produced two of Mousasi’s three bouts last year while crowning him the promotion’s inaugural titleholder in that division.
He’d like to fight four times a year, twice for Strikeforce and twice for Dream.
“I think I’m in a good, luxury position to be able to fight that much,” Mousasi says. “If I could stay busier in the U.S., that would be better for me, for my career. But I see that’s not something that’s possible, because Strikeforce is not giving me that many fights.”
Staying busy in Japan’s biggest promotions hasn’t been easy either this year. Parent company Fighting and Entertainment struggled over the last two years to find financing to stay afloat, and finding sponsors or backers in the wake of the March earthquake in northern Japan became even harder. Dream’s chief rival in years past, World Victory Road’s Sengoku, has yet to hold an event in 2011; Saturday’s show is only the second one this year for Dream.
One appeal of Japan for Mousasi is its promoters’ willingness to bring back fighters purely for entertainment value, often regardless of won-lost records. Yet he describes himself as less interested in excitement for excitement’s sake these days.
That could mean cruising to a decision win on the judges’ scorecard, rather than aggressively seeking knockouts or submissions.
“I’m going to run around a little bit and make my points, and then win the fight,” Mousasi says. “Otherwise, the other guy will take me down and just hold me there and win the fight. That’s what’s happening to MMA now. They only want to take you down and just control you so they can win the decision fights.”
His more recent opponents have done their best to wrestle him to the ground and neutralize his excellent stand-up skills. His latest bout, an April 9 draw with Keith Jardine, saw Mousasi taken down on six of nine attempts by a man known mainly as a quirky brawler.
“After the Keith Jardine fight, I think, ‘OK, even the stand-up guys want to take me down now,’ ” Mousasi says. “So I’m going to just focus on that. Every fight, I’m going to be a boring fighter, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to worry about the takedown defense, and I’m going to win my fights.”
“It’s important to win, more than just coming for a fight,” says Mousasi, No. 12 in the USA TODAY/SB Nation consensus ranking for light heavyweights. “Winning and fighting are different things.”