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Gegard Mousasi enjoying added freedom with Bellator after 'hard road' with UFC

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Gegard Mousasi hasn’t even stepped in the cage for his first Bellator fight, but already he appears much happier with the status of his career than any point in his four-year UFC run.

Mousasi (42-6-2 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) became one of several notable names to sign with Bellator through free agency this year when he inked a multi-fight deal in July. He makes his promotional debut on Oct. 20 when he meets Alexander Shlemenko (56-9 MMA, 12-3 BMMA) in Bellator 185’s middleweight headliner, which takes place at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., and airs on Spike following prelims on MMAjunkie.

Over the course of his more than 14-year, 50-fight career, Mousasi has competed in 20 different organizations. He said he didn’t hate his time with the UFC relative to others, but in just a few months of being part of the Bellator roster, he said he’s already feeling right at home.

“Life is easier,” Mousasi told MMAjunkie. “I was able to bring my friends also into Bellator. The treatment that I’m getting is great. I feel Bellator has space to grow, not only with me, but also as a company.

“I was a small fish in the UFC. I’m a big fish in Bellator. That’s why I want to do my part to grow with Bellator. There’s a connection that I don’t have with UFC. It’s a company, like a factory. With Bellator, it’s more that I’m part of the family, and I’m doing the best I can to grow with the family.”

Mousasi said his goal isn’t to trash the UFC, because ultimately he feels he was given a solid platform. He was either the main or co-main event in 12 of his 13 appearances with the organization. Despite that prominent positioning, though, Mousasi said he never felt like he was truly given a push. He never got to fight for a championship and said he never even felt like he was considered despite a five-fight winning streak, which included a TKO of former champion Chris Weidman in his final octagon appearance at UFC 210 in April.

There have been many instances in which the UFC has made decisions in a proper and logical manner, but more recently the rhyme and reason behind awarding title shots has become less clear. Mousasi, No. 6 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings, felt he was somewhat a victim of that shift, and he admits it was a frustrating position.

“I was treated well in the UFC because I got the opportunity to get where I am now,” Mousasi said. “But, if I was to criticize them, I think the fairness of payment or the fairness of getting a title shot, it’s too much about the name of the fighter and who they feel they can build as a star as opposed to who is the best fighter. There are issues. Before the belt I’d have to fight probably Luke Rockhold, I would have fought Yoel Romero because (Robert) Whittaker is next. It would have made my road so difficult to get to the top. Some get an easy road.

“They give the fighters they like matchups suited for them so they can keep winning. They’ll probably do (Conor) McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 3. Why? Because McGregor has a good shot of winning. They’re not going to make a fight with Khabib (Nurmagomedov) or Tony (Ferguson) because it’s bad for the promotion. Those things, you feel as a fighter. I’m not making things up. It’s frustrating. I had to take the hard road. That’s what I feel.”

Joining Bellator also gives Mousasi the freedom to pursue his own sponsorship opportunities. Under the UFC banner, he was tied to the Reebok Athlete Outfitting Policy, which paid him $10,000 for his most recent fight. Mousasi said he believes the Reebok deal has badly damaged the sponsorship market as a whole, but between the limited opportunities he was able to get for himself and the additional purse money guaranteed within his Bellator contract, he said he’s coming out ahead.

“Sponsorship is not that important for me because I feel like I’m getting paid well,” Mousasi said. “I don’t need a lot of sponsorship. But sponsorship is also not that great because UFC has killed it with the Reebok deal. A lot of companies that used to be there are not anymore. It’s a little bit tougher to get sponsorship. But I don’t really need sponsors.

“People don’t care about me that much because I’m not a U.S. citizen. In Holland, there’s not that big support for me here. For me, it’s little bit different. Sometimes it makes a difference where you’re from. If you’re an American fighter or Canadian fighter or Brazilian fighter you get certain opportunities a Dutch fighter doesn’t get. The sponsors my manager got paid for the extra guys coming with me (to Bellator 185). Just to pay the bills; it’s allowance money.”

Regardless of his thoughts on the UFC’s business practices, Mousasi said he’s excited to begin a new chapter of his career with Bellator. He has a relationship with Bellator President Scott Coker from his days under the now-defunct Strikeforce banner, and Mousasi said he’s happy to fight for Coker once again.

Mousasi, 32, said he believes he will be heard and accommodated much more in a budding promotion like Bellator than he would have otherwise, and that makes him motivated to put on his best performance. He said he expects to get a stoppage win over Shlemenko then move on to challenge for Bellator’s 185-pound title. After that? There’s a potential to chase big-name fights, switch up weight classes, dabble in kickboxing or do anything else his heart desires.

“That’s one of the great things about Bellator is I have the freedom to decide and do whatever I feel,” Mousasi said. “I have more freedom. It’s a lot more easy-going. Scott bringing me into Bellator, I want to have a good impression. I don’t want to let anyone down. I’ve come to get the belt. I have to beat (Shlemenko)m and I have to beat him decisively. I have to make a statement.”

For complete coverage of Bellator 185, check out the MMA Events section of the site.



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