“The Dreamcatcher” has always been a technical marvel, both skilled and dangerous in each phase of a fight, but he has struggled notably with consistency. This has been a recurring theme throughout his UFC run, but was a common criticism even before that.
As spectacular as Mousasi can be in any given moment, he could just as quickly look listless. And, long before Mousasi displayed the inconsistency which defined his early UFC run, the Dutchman’s issues were apparent.
A decisive loss to a then-unheralded Muhammed “#KingMo” Lawal in 2010 was worrisome, as Mousasi seemed content to let the seconds tick away while he succumbed to Lawal’s suffocating wrestling game.
The loss was not an indictment on Mousasi’s career, at least not one with any sort of finality. He had always been an undersized light heavyweight, and his inability to resist the larger man’s elite takedown game was, especially with the benefit of hindsight, unsurprising.
Far more concerning was Mousasi’s return to #Strikeforce a year later, opposite Keith Jardine. Jardine was a prohibitive underdog, having lost, at this point, five of his last seven bouts.
Close to retirement, Jardine found unexpected success against the Dutchman, repeatedly taking him down and controlling the positional battle en route to a controversial majority draw.
The performance was problematic, not just because he had struggled so greatly against a perceived lay-up opponent, but because Mousasi, just as he had in the Lawal fight, seemed almost content to lose.
In the third round, Mousasi visibly hurt Jardine with a huge right cross, and immediately took the American down, abandoning an opportunity which would not present itself again.
In the UFC, the story was the same, but the issues were compounded even further, resulting in alternating wins and losses during Mousasi’s first four fights.
After stringing together two consecutive UFC wins for the first time, Mousasi was booked opposite the dangerous but deeply flawed #UriahHall.
Mousasi was an overwhelming favorite, with the common sentiment being that Hall’s only real chance was to connect with one of the fight-altering moments of dynamism which formed the Jamaican’s entire highlight reel. Following a dominant first round in which Mousasi easily controlled and battered Hall, a spinning back kick into a flying knee temporarily separated him from his senses.
It was the most condemning loss of Mousasi’s career; his tendency to fight down to his opponents had resulted in a loss against mid-tier opposition in a fight he otherwise should have easily won.
Flash forward 18 months, and these performances feel long forgotten. Following a lackluster victory over Thales Leites, Mousasi has notched three consecutive TKO stoppages, and enters his upcoming bout with former UFC middleweight champion #ChrisWeidman as a slight favorite.
Weidman, in spite of a two-fight skid, is one of the sport’s best middleweights, and a beacon of consistency within the confines of steel fencing. He is the sort of opponent that Mousasi would previously have struggled with greatly, but how much has changed? Is 2017’s Gegard Mousasi a product of reinvention, or of favorable matchmaking?
The first step in answering this question is to evaluate the four victories which comprise his recent win streak, and from there, answers become more tangible.
The first of the four was an uneventful unanimous decision against Thales Leites, a technically sharp but underwhelming performance.
Mousasi followed this up with a TKO victory over Thiago Santos, a promising up-and-coming kickboxing specialist. Each moment of the bout’s four minutes were in the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion’s favor, as his slick boxing easily found openings for power strikes through Santos’ guard, eventually dropping and finishing him with a right uppercut.
Of the four, this win felt the most uncharacteristic for "The Dreamcatcher;" he was aggressive in a way he is generally averse to, against an opponent dangerous enough to bait out passivity from most iterations of Gegard Mousasi.
In essence, Mousasi surprised us by giving us exactly what we hoped for, though Santos' subsequent performances may suggest that he never belonged in this fight to begin with.
In his next bout, he stopped #VitorBelfort in the second round, but it felt more lackadaisical than the Santos fight. He seemed to give Vitor more time and opportunities than were necessary, and though the finish materialized, the feeling that Mousasi was capable of more lingered long after.
He entered his most recent bout, a rematch with Hall, as a colossal favorite, and stopped Hall via strikes in the first round, a performance which largely felt like a reversion to the norm, rather than any statement of renewed purpose from one of the Netherlands’ best mixed martial artists.
Contextualizing performances in the broader scope of a fighter’s career is a difficult balancing act; MMA is a particularly results-oriented sport, and there’s as little room for gray as there is for silver linings, even when victory itself is the silver lining of an otherwise ominous performance.
Gegard Mousasi and #ChrisWeidman are excellent fighters, and neither deserves to be heavily favored over the other. However, when picking fights, think not in terms of a fighter’s victories and defeats, but in terms of the skills, strategies, and circumstances which led them to those results.
By examining performances under a more detailed lens, the minutiae of a fighter's current form can be understood in a way which record books are unfit to document.
Is this the best Gegard Mousasi? Is this a diminished Chris Weidman? Those questions are too broad to be answered with a simple "yes" or "no," but when predicting their UFC 210 showdown, or any match-up, a perspective focused on detail will yield more accurate outputs than a results-oriented mind.
From an analyst's perspective, Mousasi seems to be an old dog finding success with old tricks. Whether this is a fair perspective on his growth, and whether he has tools yet unknown, we will hopefully discover at UFC 210.
Gegard Mousasi UFC Record (8-3):
- W - Uriah Hall - R1, TKO (punches)
- W - Vitor Belfort - R2, TKO (punches)
- W - Thiago Santos - R1, TKO (punches)
- W - Thales Leites - unanimous decision
- L - Uriah Hall - R2, TKO (flying knee and punches)
- W - Costas Philippou - unanimous decision
- W - Dan Henderson - R1, TKO (punches)
- L - Jacare Souza - R3, submission (guillotine choke)
- W - Mark Munoz - R1, submission (rear naked choke)
- L - Lyoto Machida - unanimous decision
- W - Ilir Latifi - unanimous decision