Gegard Mousasi's nickname is "Dreamcatcher," but give him a few more fights and he may soon be known as "Old Man River." He's going to fight veteran jiu-jitsu specialist Renato "Babalu" Sobral in a light heavyweight fight at Affliction: Trilogy in Anaheim, Calif., on Aug. 1, rather than facing Vitor Belfort in a middleweight bout.
Mousasi (25-2-1) badly wanted to fight Belfort and actually signed a contract to meet him. The bout, though, fell apart.
The reason, according to Mousasi?
"I'm getting older," he said.
One has to feel sorry for the Iranian-born striker, who will fight Sobral on Mousasi's birthday. Getting old and getting injured are two of the worst things that could happen to an athlete.
Then again, maybe there's no need to feel sorry for Mousasi, regardless of what he says.
The "aging" Mousasi will turn 24 the night he is to fight on the Affliction show. And the reason he is fighting Sobral and not Belfort is not because he's prematurely aged, but because he's still growing and can't come close to making the 185-pound weight limit.
He signed a contract to fight Belfort at a catch weight of 195 pounds, but the veteran Belfort has made the decision to campaign full-time as a middleweight and wouldn't agree to the 10 extra pounds.
Mousasi said it was impossible for him to shed the extra poundage, so he wound up signing for a bout with Sobral instead.
"I'm not as young as I used to be, and I'm getting bigger all the time," Mousasi said. "It's impossible for me to get to 185 pounds now."
Mousasi walks around at close to 220 pounds and fought massive kickboxer Mark Hunt in his last outing.
He spent a week training in Amsterdam with Affliction headliner Fedor Emelianenko and said he didn't feel much smaller than the 230-pound Emelianenko.
"I felt bigger than him, to tell you the truth," Mousasi said. "But you learn very quickly why he's so great. He moves like he's a middleweight, but he has the strength and the power of a heavyweight. As far as I've seen, there is nobody like him."
Affliction promoter Tom Atencio has put together a card with some of the game's biggest and most respected names. Emelianenko will meet Josh Barnett in the main event, a long anticipated bout and the third fight in a row in which Emelianenko will take on a former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion.
Also fighting on the card are big names like Sobral, Belfort and former PRIDE lightweight champion Takanori Gomi. Atencio, who is positively ancient compared to Mousasi at the ripe old age of 42, suspects many of his customers won't know much about Mousasi. He figures Mousasi may be one of the most talked about fighters on the card after it's over.
"Of course, the hardcore MMA people are well aware of Gegard and how good he is," Atencio said. "The casual fan, the one who watches the UFC once in a while, may not know him. They're in for a huge surprise. This is a guy who is extremely talented and who always puts on a good show."
He concedes that Sobral will have better jiu-jitsu and better wrestling, but he shrugs it off. This, after all, is a guy who knocked out Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, one of the best jiu-jitsu fighters in MMA, in the finals of the DREAM 6 middleweight Grand Prix.
Mousasi was taken down by Souza, which some felt would lead to a quick end to the fight. But Mousasi managed to avoid Souza's submissions. As Souza tried to throw a big right from the top, Mousasi caught him with a right upkick in the middle of the face.
Souza was instantly out and Mousasi had the biggest win of his career. A victory like that went a long way toward bolstering his confidence that he could deal with a veteran jiu-jitsu expert like Sobral.
"I feel comfortable fighting off my back, in mount or in side control," Mousasi said. "This is MMA; it's not a grappling match. We'll be on our feet at some point, and I'm going to be able to find a way to win it."
Atencio said Mousasi's confidence is one of his defining characteristics as a fighter. He exudes confidence and can intimidate opponents, much like Emelianenko, simply with his demeanor.
Losing a fight is something that simply doesn't cross his mind.
"There is such an air of confidence about him, it's almost eerie," Atencio said. "He doesn't look for a second like he thinks he could lose. He's so mellow, some people may look at him and think he's arrogant, but he's not. He's a guy with not only tremendous skills and physical abilities, but the confidence and belief in himself to match."