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UFC Japan opinion: Gegard Mousasi is at a career crossroads following upset loss

Gegard Mousasi's stunning defeat vs. Uriah Hall leaves the former Strikeforce champion at a pivotal point in his career. Where does he go from here?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Gegard Mousasi was easily winning his fight against Uriah Hall until he wasn't. Hall became the first man to ever finish Mousasi with strikes, securing a shocking upset win via spinning back kick and then a vicious follow-up knee after Mousasi was already wobbled. While there's much discussion over whether or not Hall's technique paying off was a fluke, the result in question isn't - Gegard Mousasi lost a winnable fight against a big underdog coming in on short notice.

Mousasi has had high expectations of being a legitimate title challenger since the Strikeforce roster merged into the UFC's. He'd won the Strikeforce LHW title, DREAM's middleweight belt, DREAM's light heavyweight championship, and had generally fought high-caliber competition over the past several years. So far, his UFC career is far from a bust, but the loss to Hall adds to his inconsistent run of results inside the Octagon. Mousasi's record stands at 4-3, with two defeats by devastating stoppage. His superb outings against Dan Henderson and Mark Munoz have been offset by the Hall stunner and Jacare Souza's domination of him in their rematch.

As much as it's easy to dismiss Mousasi's loss as a fluke -- not necessarily wrong, because upsets happen -- you also have to acknowledge that he's not a prospect and he's not a spring chicken (in MMA terms). Mousasi may be 30 years old, but he's been in MMA since 2003 and has 45 professional fights, which is more than every current UFC middleweight except Nate Marquardt. That's right, Mousasi has (at least for the next month) more pro bouts than Dan Henderson. If you play the odds regarding aging curves and when an MMA fighter will start to decline, it's likely that the Mousasi we've been seeing is as good as he's going to get.

Mousasi is essentially at a crossroads right now. Losing to Uriah Hall is a significant setback to his title shot aspirations, but what are the alternatives? He can stay at 185, where he's #8 in the rankings and below the semi-retired Tim Kennedy, the likely-to-fade Vitor Belfort, the declining Lyoto Machida, and perennial "not quite good enough to get a title shot" top 10er Michael Bisping. The path back to contention is essentially still laid out for him if he strings together a winning streak of at least 3, but he's yet to do that in the UFC. What will be key for Mousasi is whether or not UFC matchmakers will put him in a #1 contender type fight against Romero or the Rockhold/Weidman loser.

Option #2 is to return to light heavyweight. After all, he easily beat #6 ranked Ovince Saint Preux in 2012 back in Strikeforce, although I'm not sure the OSP of 2012 is the same as OSP of 2015. Light heavyweight is one of the weakest divisions in the UFC. Mousasi may be giving up size, but if Mauricio Rua is #7, then Gegard is surely above him at this stage. Lest we forget that Mousasi was supposed to fight Alexander Gustafsson two years ago, but Gustafsson was replaced by Ilir Latifi, and Mousasi dropped to 185 (as would many people if they had to encounter the legend). Jon Jones is probably coming back soon, and I don't think that a potential match-up with him would end well, but we don't know if Jones is going to finally make due on his heavyweight plans. I'd certainly be interested in watching Mousasi vs. Gustafsson, Bader, Teixeira, etc. if only to inject some sort of life into the division.

If you're a Mousasi fan, you're probably still holding out hope that he can be like Robbie Lawler and pull off a late-career surge that leads to a UFC championship. Maybe it can still happen, but success stories like Lawler -- this is not exactly a linear comparison I must admit -- are a rarity and not the norm for a reason. I personally think Mousasi has a better shot at becoming champion at 205 than 185, where he has more or less settled into a Michael Bisping-esque "gatekeeper to the elite" role, but time is running short on his career to make that big breakthrough in the UFC after considerable success outside of it. This isn't an overreaction to a fluke loss to a talented but inconsistent fighter, it's reviewing his UFC resume as a whole, and it's just not quite clicked as Gegard (or his fans) had hoped.