Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal press conference at Seau’s Restaurant on December 15, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photos by Josh Hedges/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images)
Two years ago, Gegard Mousasi looked like a man on the verge of greatness. At 24 years old, he had already compiled an impressive 27-2-1 record along with a list of accolades. He was the undefeated Dream Middleweight champion and the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion. He had tried his hand at kickboxing and effortlessly KO'd K-1 veteran Musashi. He was on a 14 fight win streak and hadn't lost since facing Akihiro Gono in Pride back in 2006. He was being mentioned as a possible top 10 pound for pound fighter in the world. He was, beyond a doubt, one of the names to watch.
Today, he is largely forgotten. As Mousasi gets ready to face Ovince St. Preux at the Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal card this weekend, that momentum of two short years ago is gone. That's not so odd though - in this sport, fighters can fall hard and fast. But what's strange is this - in those 2 years, Mousasi has only seen 1 loss. He's gone 4-1-1 in MMA, plus defeated the K-1 Heavyweight champion Kyotaro under K-1 rules.
So why have fans forgotten about Mousasi?
Two factors are at play here. First is the nature of that 4-1-1 record. The 4 wins have all come in Japan, and so have not been seen by many casual fans. On the other side, that loss and draw were both under the Strikeforce banner, here in the US in significantly higher profile fights. And both of those performances were not Mousasi at his best. First was the loss to King Mo Lawal on the Strikeforce CBS show. There, Mousasi just had no answer for Mo's wrestling, being taken down repeatedly and ultimately unable to mount an offense. It was an easy, one-sided decision for Mo that greatly hurt Mousasi.
After that loss, his next US appearance was meant to be against Mike Kyle, but when Kyle was injured, Keith Jardine stepped in on one week's notice and fought Mousasi to a draw. Again, Mousasi did not look great in this fight. And worse, he didn't look great against a man who casual fans had last seen in the UFC on a disastrous 1-5 run. After those back to back Strikeforce fights, many casual gave up on Mousasi.
Also at play for Mousasi is the decreasing perception of Japanese MMA. As fighter after fighter has come over from Japan and failed to impress, fans have begun to write off the level of competition there as significantly lower than in the US. Despite Mousasi's record, even hardcore fans now look at him and see a fighter who has only succeeded in Japan, only against talent that are either past their primes, or have never had their own successes outside the US. And so, like the casual fans, many hardcore fans have given him up as well.
This Saturday, that can change. If Mousasi gets a big win over OSP - if he shows the kind of domination that led him to highlight reel stoppage wins over Mark Hunt, Jacare, Babalu, and more - then those Mo and Jardine fights will fade, as will the complaints about his Japanese run. They won't disappear, but they will grow a bit quieter. And the fans who once looked at Mousasi as a future great will be reminded of what made him special.
And if Mousasi loses, or wins and looks uninspiring in the process? Then fans will decide they were right all along and the hype was always unjustified.
It's a tough position to be in, but Mousasi holds his future in his hands. Let's see what he does with it on Saturday.