Middleweight contender has hopes of moving up to heavyweight for the right fight
Bellator MMA’s attempts at providing real competition for UFC in the MMA marketplace took another step forward Monday with the addition of yet another big free agent.
Gegard Mousasi, fresh off a five-fight winning streak in UFC, signed a four-year, six-fight deal with Bellator. The middleweight contender and former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion confirmed the initial report from MMA Junkie during an appearance on MMAFighting’s “The MMA Hour.”
“I’ve worked before with [Bellator president] Scott Coker [in Strikeforce],” Mousasi said. “I have no problems going with Bellator. I know how I’m going to get treated and the opportunities I will get. It’s not just basically the money. I’ve worked with Scott. When he promises you something, he delivers. He’s an honest guy and he treats fighters with respect.”
Mousasi, 31, joins a Bellator stable filled with former UFC fighters. The main difference over the past few years has been most of the signings are fighters still in the midst of their respective primes, including Rory MacDonald, Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, Benson Henderson and Michael McDonald.
“I’m thrilled to welcome Gegard to the growing Bellator family,” Bellator President Scott Coker said. “He’s one of the most well-rounded fighters in all of MMA and can compete in multiple divisions, so that really opens up some exciting matchmaking opportunities for us and for the fans. We’re looking forward to having him compete on Spike very soon.”
The native of Iran said he expects to challenge fairly soon for the Bellator 185-pound championship, currently held by Rafael Carvalho. But a big part of the move, he said, is the freedom of creative matchmaking. Mousasi not only welcomes superfights against the likes of MacDonald and veteran Wanderlei Silva, but he hopes to move back up to 205 pounds and eventually heavyweight for the right fight.
“That’s the good thing about Bellator. I can do things, I can ask for things,” Mousasi said. “It’s more open-minded. The UFC is very strict about those things and giving opportunities — to me, at least. They give all the opportunities to [Conor] McGregor.”
Mousasi attended the UFC’s inaugural fighter retreat in May for the promise of sitting down with president Dana White and UFC lawyers. He admits UFC upped its offer during negotiations and were close to re-signing him before he ultimately chose Bellator.
“The UFC has always treated me well to be honest. Dana White has always talked good about me. I’m thankful to them,” Mousasi said. “They gave me the opportunities to where I am now.”
One opportunity UFC never did end up giving Mousasi, however, was a title shot. That ultimately played a role in his decision.
“The thing is with the [UFC] middleweight division, [Robert] Whittaker won against ‘Jacare’ [Ronaldo Souza] and he skipped three places in the rankings and went up and fought for the interim title. I thought I was ahead of him. That’s my opinion.
“I think if they would’ve come and said, ‘You’re fighting for the interim belt,’ I think that would’ve been more interesting to me. Those things matter. Sometimes I felt like I should’ve been there already.”
Mousasi was also very candid in his belief that UFC’s controversial Reebok apparel deal, which was singed in December 2014 and removed fighter’s abilities to sell ads on their trunks, has been a major factor in a growing trend of unhappy fighters.
“Let’s be honest, Reebok was there to sell the company. Never was it meant to help the fighters out,” Mousasi said. “Reebok became UFC because they wanted to sell it for $4 billion, to make it more global for the sport. It’s as simple as that. It was terrible for the fighters. No one complains about [Reebok] because if you complain, it’s going to get messy and they are going to fire you.
“But we all know the truth. [Reebok] can’t even make good pants or good shorts. It’s the same thing. I was not happy with the Reebok deal and 99 percent of fighters are not happy. Reebok itself is not happy, but it is what it is. Reebok is bad for UFC and I don’t know if the new owners [WME-IMG] realize what they are doing.
“This is different from entertainment. With [former UFC owners, the Ferttia brothers], they made this sport. It’s a different attitude maybe. Bellator is coming 100 percent and is going to get bigger. You need competition. I think it is good for the athletes that Bellator is here. One hundred percent they will be close in a couple of years.”
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