MMA: Gegard Mousasi
In those 11 years, Souza (20-3) has failed to get his hand raised only three times. In two of his three losses, you might say Souza got his money's worth.
In his professional debut at Jungle Fight 1 in September 2003, Souza, despite strong grappling credentials, stood with fellow Brazilian Jorge Patino, tired quickly and was knocked out by a stinging right hand a little more than three minutes into the fight.
Almost exactly five years later, Souza suffered his second knockout loss, this time to Gegard Mousasi during a Dream Middleweight Grand Prix in Saitama, Japan. Souza was knocked out by a Mousasi upkick, as he uncorked what is surely one of the wildest right hands he has ever unleashed in his life.
Looking like a 10-year-old impersonating a pro-wrestling move from the top ropes, Souza launched into a crashing right hand after standing over Mousasi's guard. He was met midair by an upkick, which knocked him out cold.
Souza, 34, learned a few lessons that day -- one of which, of course, was to not launch himself wildly into the guard of a savvy fighter like Mousasi. He also simply learned a few things about Mousasi, which he might apply on Friday, when the two meet for the second time in the main event of UFC Fight Night 50 at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
"I cannot say it was a lucky move that beat me the first time," Souza told ESPN.com. "It was clever how he caught me. Every one of my fights I learn something and that fight taught me many things.
"One of them was that [upkick] that I need to be aware of. Also, Mousasi is a clever fighter and he needs to be the only thing on my mind right now."
Whether this second meeting between Souza and Mousasi produces the UFC's next 185-pound title challenger or not (president Dana White hinted it might not right away), there's no mistaking its inevitable impact on the middleweight division.
Mousasi (35-4-2) is looking to further prove himself in the weight class after a quick submission victory over Mark Munoz in the first round of a bout in May.
Souza looks like a legitimate threat to the title. He is riding a six-fight winning streak into the bout, including five finishes. The Rio de Janeiro-based fighter says there is no disputing he should fight for the UFC belt pending a win on Friday.
"If I win this fight, there is no doubt I deserve that," Souza said. "I am next. You look at the UFC rankings and I'm next."
Last week in Sacramento, California, however, White told ESPN.com that Souza likely would have to fight again before getting a title shot, as the promotion's middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort on Dec. 6 is three months away.
"[Souza] is definitely right there, but I'm not saying [he's next in line with a win]," White said. "It's possible. The problem with saying he'll get a title shot is that there's already a fight set, so he'd probably have to fight again before he gets a title shot."
Souza said his full focus is on getting past Mousasi on Friday, but that he's ready to fight the Weidman-Belfort winner next.
"I think it's fair Vitor is getting a chance, he deserves it," Souza said. "I'm happy he is cleared with the [Nevada State Athletic Commission]. Weidman is the favorite. It's really hard to take the belt from a confident champion and I see Weidman winning by points or some time in the third or fourth round."
Munoz (13-5) announced Thursday he has signed a four-fight deal with the UFC. He posted a photo of him signing the contract via Instagram.
The UFC removed Munoz from its promotional rankings earlier this week, stating he was no longer under contract. Munoz later confirmed to ESPN.com that his previous contract had expired following a loss to Gegard Mousasi in May.
The California-based fighter said he hoped to come to an agreement to stay within the UFC, where he has fought 13 times since 2009. Dubbed "The Filipino Wrecking Machine," Munoz is currently on a 1-3 skid in his past four fights.
Munoz, 36, is still not expected to compete any time soon. He suffered a torn MCL and strained ACL in his left knee during the first-round submission loss to Mousasi. He expects to avoid surgery, but will be sidelined two to three months.
The UFC dropped Munoz (13-5) from its promotional rankings on Monday, as he is not currently under a UFC contract. Officials said the two sides are negotiating a new deal that would keep Munoz in the UFC.
Munoz, 36, told ESPN.com that he elected to exhaust his old contract in hopes of building leverage at the negotiating table. Things didn’t go according to plan, as Munoz lost the final bout on his old deal in May via first-round submission to Gegard Mousasi.
“For me, I wanted to get the most favorable contract I could get,” Munoz said. “I was holding out until my last fight and if I had beat Mousasi, which didn’t work out for me, it probably would have boosted my likelihood of getting that contract.
“I had all the confidence that I was going to beat Mousasi. It kind of backfired. I don’t know what the future holds for me and the UFC, but hopefully they accept me back.”
When asked if Munoz would pursue offers outside the UFC, where he has fought since 2009, he basically said he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
“Obviously, the UFC is the organization to be in,” Munoz said. “It’s the top dog. I am the type of guy who wants to stay with the top organization.
“Having said that, I do have a wife and kids, you know? I want something that’s good for my family. I do want to stay in the UFC, though. There is no other organization I want to fight for.”
Munoz is 8-5 all time in the UFC, but has gone 1-3 in his past four fights.
According to numbers released by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Munoz made $42,000 to show and a $42,000 win bonus for a unanimous decision over Tim Boetsch at UFC 162 in July 2013.
Regardless of whether Munoz re-signs with the UFC, he is currently facing an injury layoff. Munoz said he suffered a torn MCL and strained ACL in his left knee during the loss to Mousasi, which took place in Berlin.
The injury will not require surgery, but Munoz is expected to be on the shelf for at least two to three months with little activity.
“It happened in the first takedown, when I had him up in the air,” Munoz said. “For some reason, I landed on my side and he was able to scramble out. As I got back to my feet, I noticed a lot of instability in my leg.
“I ended up getting desperate after that. I couldn’t push off the knee. I couldn’t fake and follow up with strikes. He knew I wanted to shoot and wanted to take it to the ground. I wanted to mask that with feints, but wasn’t able to do it because of the front leg. I don’t want to make excuses, though. It’s just what happened.”
UFC middleweight Gegard Mousasi admits that every now and then, he’ll log onto an Internet fan forum to see what’s being said about him.
He doesn’t always agree with what he finds.
Mousasi (34-3-2) will make his first appearance at middleweight since 2008 when he meets Lyoto Machida at UFC Fight Night 36 on Saturday in Jaragua do Sol, Brazil.
If there’s one knock on Mousasi’s sterling record thus far, it’s that he’s built it while facing lesser competition. Although he’s lost just three fights in the last 10 years, rarely if ever will you see his name on a pound-for-pound list.
“I don’t get a lot of credit,” Mousasi told ESPN.com. “When I fought Denis Kang, Renato Sobral and Melvin Mahoef (in 2008), they were much better then. At that time, Kang was on top. A couple years later, he was losing to everybody.
“When I beat [Ronaldo] Jacare Souza, he wasn’t a big name. Mark Hunt -- no one knew who these guys were. Now they are doing very well. It depends how people look at it and people usually look at it negatively with me.”
Mousasi knows he can do a lot to change that perception with a win over Machida, a former UFC light heavyweight champion who appears to be on the verge of another title shot following a first-round knockout over Mark Munoz in October.
On Wednesday, Mousasi shared his thoughts on that upcoming opportunity.
ESPN: Does it bother you that some observers criticize the level of competition you’ve faced?
Mousasi: I don’t know how people look at it. I’ve seen so many fighters getting knocked out. I’ve never been knocked out. I’ve never been hurt in a fight. But people don’t look at those things. Vitor Belfort has been knocked out a couple of times. No one looks at it that way. I’m a solid fighter. I don’t know. Everyone has an opinion, but I am always underrated.
ESPN: When you stopped cutting to middleweight in 2009, you said it was too difficult of a cut for you. What’s changed from then to now?
Mousasi: My last two fights (at light heavyweight) I didn’t cut a lot of weight. I was around 206 or 207 pounds. It makes sense cutting now. I think I always knew I was a little undersized. I perform better at 185 and I will get an easier title shot here.
ESPN: What makes you think a UFC title shot at 185 pounds is easier to earn than 205?
Mousasi: There are a lot of popular names in the light heavyweight division. At middleweight there isn’t a No. 1 contender. You have Vitor Belfort next and then no one is really in line. At 205, the next guy is Glover Teixeira, then you have Alexander Gustafsson and then Daniel Cormier or Rashad Evans. You have three guys in front of you at that weight. At middleweight, you only have Belfort.
ESPN: You’re well known for how calm you are in the cage. Has that always come naturally to you, and is it an advantage in a fight against an elusive guy like Machida?
Mousasi: When I was an amateur, I would go to knock guys out in the first minute. When you get experience, you know it doesn’t work like that. Emotion works against you. The less emotion, the more you use your brain and fight smart. I’ve been working on staying calm for this fight and I’ve seen Machida get frustrated, too. If he can’t do what he does, he’ll get frustrated.
ESPN: When you announced your intent to drop to 185 pounds, Anderson Silva was still the champion. Were you excited about the idea of a possible fight with him?
Mousasi: My goal was to fight for the belt. At that time, Anderson Silva was the champ, so of course I wanted to fight him. I was thinking about it. But I just want the belt. That’s my goal. Who has it now is not that important.
ESPN: Chris Weidman is the champ now, having beaten Silva twice. Curious though, who would be a tougher matchup for you, Silva or Weidman?
Mousasi: Hmm. Difficult. Very difficult. I would say, I think Anderson a little bit -- but not really. I don’t know. They are both equal. It’s too difficult to say.
For those who enjoy a good story, however, there’s been one brewing in Sweden this week.
As speculation grew that a cut would force Gustafsson from the UFC on Fuel main event at Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, a non-UFC-contracted Latifi climbed into his car in Malmo and began a solitary seven-hour drive north.
“I made the drive by myself,” Latifi told ESPN.com. “I was thinking of the possibility of the fight, because I wasn’t sure if it was on. There were so many factors it was depending on. Would somebody else step in? Would Mousasi accept the fight?”
Latifi (7-2) officially replaced Gustafsson in the main event on Tuesday and it’s been a whirlwind of activity since.
Forget about game planning or training specifically for Mousasi; Latifi has been filling out medical forms, conducting interviews and (the worst part) attempting to cut 26 pounds to make weight.
“I will make weight. I will make weight,” promised Latifi. “I’m not such a tall guy, but I’m pretty heavy. I usually weigh between 225 and 230 pounds. I wasn’t prepared. I was 26 pounds over.”
Not the best circumstance surrounding a fight -- but it makes for a great story. When Latifi was told Mousasi accepted the bout, he called his brother Arben [a major influence in his career] in the middle of the night, who had what Latifi described as an “emotional” response.
Latifi and his camp have waited for a call from the UFC, twice. The promotion held an event in Stockholm in April 2012. Latifi didn’t receive an invite, but won back-to-back fights the rest of the year in hopes of making the next Swedish card.
Had Gustafsson not been forced out, it would have been another disappointing oversight for Latifi. Now he has a shot to perform against an opponent like Mousasi (33-3-2) in a main event. Even he’s not sure how it will go.
“Let’s see on Saturday what happens,” said Latifi, when asked if he has the talent to make a sustained run in the Octagon. “We’ll see after this fight, you know? I’m thinking about this fight first, doing my best.”
It’s a scenario in which many would say the underdog has nothing to lose. Six days ago, the UFC still seemed months or years away (and only if Latifi continued winning). On Saturday, Latifi’s name will headline the event.
When asked if that’s how he feels, though, Latifi scoffed. He’s been hearing the last two days he has nothing to lose. But when you’ve dedicated your life to combat sports, undergone surgery to fix injury, waited for a fight contract from the world’s largest promotion that didn’t come -- you feel like you have something to lose.
This story is only worth reading if it doesn’t have a letdown ending.
“I’m comfortable with myself,” Latifi said. “But at the same time, people say I have nothing to lose; yeah, I have a lot to lose. I want to go in there and win and make a good fight. If you’re just going to go in and lose, it’s nothing.”
It’s fight week, and it’s flight week. No more Strikeforce after Saturday night. No more wondering if and when we’ll be sold on Josh Thomson-Gilbert Melendez IV. No more decagon, and no more second-class citizenry.
At long last, the long road ends. Hey, we’ll always have Frank Shamrock’s cosmetic dental braces.
Since it was a slow, awkward demise, Strikeforce’s last show comes as a relief. Bittersweet? A little. But this wasn’t like the cult of Pride. San Jose wasn’t far-off Japan. Lenne Hardt wasn’t involved, even if Fedor Emelianenko was. Some of Pride’s vital pieces were re-imagined as Strikeforcers (after stints, in some cases, as Afflictioners). In many cases, their myths came down long before the curtain.
And even still, there are some big names coming over to the UFC, fighters who will deepen the divisions. While Sean Shelby was struggling in 2012 to make fights out of whatever he could find in the nearly bare cupboards on Strikeforce’s roster, Joe Silva in 2013 has more pieces than he knows what to do with.
Here’s a look at five impact fighters who, as of Jan. 13, become the latest UFC intrigues.
The late-bloomer Cormier comes over with momentum. For starters, his gradual ascension from wrestler to professional MMA fighter got a boost when Alistair Overeem was plucked from the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix. In went Cormier (the third alternate), who’d handled Jeff Monson in an understudy bout to stay loose. What did he do in the tournament? He destroyed Antonio Silva in the semis, for starters, with speed and power on the feet. Then he dominated Josh Barnett to cap things off. He’s part of the Strikeforce swan song this weekend, and still needs to get by Dion Staring, but it’s generally believed that Cormier is a threat to win the UFC title. The problem is a familial one: His AKA training partner Cain Velasquez currently holds the belt, and Cormier doesn’t want to trade punches with his friend. Conditions, conditions, always conditions.
Impact factor: High. The UFC’s heavyweight division isn’t as deep as some of the others, and with his tool set -- wrestling, hands, surprising agility for a hydrant -- Cormier feels like storm clouds gathering overhead.
Current welterweight champion Nate Marquardt will be back in the UFC, where he never got the chance to debut at 170 pounds. How will he look there? That’s a good question. For one thing, Marquardt has barely fought in the past three years (elevated testosterone, injuries, the never christened BAMMA promotion thing), and has competed only once as a welterweight (his title-clinching win over Tyron Woodley in July). He’s 33 years old, and he’s won three of four fights. But he is coming into a weight class that is so congested at the top that UFC 158 was created just to sort it all out. Remember, Marquardt fought for the middleweight title back in mid-2007, and six years later he’s vying for another chance. Six. Years. Later. And this time he’s doing it as a welterweight, where Georges St-Pierre rules.
Impact factor: Moderate. After a 16-month absence, Marquardt looked great in his title fight with Woodley. But he has looked great in spots throughout his career, only to come up short. Maybe he’ll be revitalized as a welterweight and make a historic run, but the only thing he’s sustained in the past half-decade is inconsistency.
Oh yes, ol’ Gil. Melendez quickly became a martyr figure in the spiraling Strikeforce ordeal. Remember, UFC president Dana White promised that Melendez would be happy as a clam with the types of elite opponents they’d dredge up for him in Strikeforce. That was right after he signed his deal. Turns out that was a bit of unfounded optimism (though Thomson III was fun). Now the partition comes down between Melendez and that brooding cast of elite 155ers in the UFC. Stick Melendez in there against any of the top names and it’s instant drama. Gray Maynard? Cool. Donald Cerrone? Sick fight. Anthony Pettis? That barn will burn. Benson Henderson? Let’s see who’s the best in the world. Face it: Melendez is the one guy everybody wanted to see fighting in the UFC. Now it’s a reality.
Impact factor: High. Melendez’s knock is that he hasn’t fought the best guys on the planet. But he’s beaten the guys who have stood in front of him, and is ranked as one of the best pound-for-pound in the world. He carries a seven-fight win streak into the UFC. No reason to believe he can’t compete for (and win) the UFC gold.
Jacare, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, is a quiet, sudden menace (much like his cousin, the alligator). He does work on the ground like nobody’s business. Yet in spot duty in 2012, he took care of Derek Brunson in 41 no-nonsense seconds with punches -- 41 seconds that Chris Leben likely studied in building up optimism toward his own fight with Brunson. Is standing with “Jacare” a little like playing with a grenade? Wouldn’t that be fun for one of the world’s best jiu-jitsu practitioners. Souza’s stock could soar if he gets by Ed Herman similarly in the final Strikeforce card. Do that and he enters the UFC as a top-10 middleweight. And the UFC’s 185-pound division, if you haven’t noticed, lacks challengers.
Impact factor: Moderate to high. Granted, Souza is 33 years old, but he will be trouble for anybody he faces. He didn’t get a second fight with Luke Rockhold in Strikeforce, but that possibility opens up for him in the UFC. He’s won six of seven fights, and really, since 2004, his only other loss was to Gegard Mousasi (via upkick).
Somebody had better call up Tony Rubalcava and ask how he solved Rockhold back in 2007, Rockhold’s only loss to date. Not that it would do you any good. Rockhold has steadily progressed for the past five years in all areas; he’s become more precise, he’s stronger, he’s good in a scramble, his striking has become more formidable, his ground game solid, his head cool at all times. Along the way he won a title over Ronaldo Souza, treated a recharged Keith Jardine as a has-been and worked Tim Kennedy for five punishing rounds. Can he compete with Anderson Silva? It’s time to find out. But that’s my attitude. ESPN’s Brett Okamoto has Rockhold pegged as the next middleweight champion in the UFC, and Okamoto isn’t one for going out on foolhardy ledges.
Impact factor: High. Rockhold has only gotten better over the course of his career, a testament to training with the talent-rich cast at AKA. He’s a sinewy 6-foot-3, and he blends up violence and smarts. Bottom line is he’s a live wire at middleweight and that just happens to be a division in need of live wires.
For Ortiz it’s a resurrection tour he’s taking through Ryan Bader and now Evans. The greatest thing he has going for him? Confidence. He fought a month ago and the new Ortiz looked like the old Ortiz. His fans have slinked back out from their holding tanks, just in time for him to crash back into relevance. What would a win do for him? It’s so preposterous it’s hard to write … but, potentially earn him a shot against the Jon Jones/Quinton Jackson winner. If you’d said that before his fight with Bader, people would have thought you just came from the booby hatch.
Nobody saw this trajectory.
For Evans? It’s a gamble. The good news is the dealer is showing a six and he has 19, so he’s in a superior position. The bad news is we’ve seen fights on short notice plenty before where the sizable underdog comes through. Charlie Brenneman did it to Rick Story, Melvin Guillard did it to Evan Dunham, Dustin Poirier did it to Josh Grispi, Keith Jardine did it to Gegard Mousasi (ahem) and so on. The point is, when guys are asked to step up and take a high-profile fight from whatever place of counted-out anonymity they’re in, they hold their own as often as not. This fight has a little bit of that going on.
Ortiz isn’t coming from an anonymous place, but he is coming back from injuries, doubt and obsolescence. Imagine the scene if he beats Evans. It will be pandemonium.
Booked to win
Speaking to Strikeforce/UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby last night, he pointed out that, when creating a title fight, he has the champion’s fall in mind. “I’m only interested in the guy who will beat the champion” he said.
In other words, no soft lobs in the UFC, which is one of the distinguishing factors on how business is done in Zuffa versus how it’s done in boxing.
Greg Jackson won’t be with Brendan Schaub or any other fighter in Rio de Janeiro for UFC 134. Why? Because he will be in Hawaii, cornering the man he intends to resurrect -- Andrei Arlovski. Arlovski fights on the same night (Aug. 27) in ProElite’s newly rebooted model. The chants of Arlovski being a shot fighter have gotten to Jackson, who says he intends to prove all reports of his demise premature. His opponent, Ray Lopez, isn’t exactly household name…but he’s a place to start.
At yesterday’s news conference, everyone was professional and gentlemanly. But you know who gets the “emphasis on hammering home a point” award? Rashad Evans. Check out how he handled a question about who has the most to lose in his fight with Ortiz:
“The truth of the matter, what it comes down to no matter what happens after this fight, the bare essentials comes down to this right here: Neither of us wants to lose to the other person.”
That’s bottom line stuff.
• Torres gets his grappling grove on
• The Pettis-Maynard beef stews
• Is it curtains for Parisyan?
• Things look up for fans north of the border
• Ivan Menjivar added to UFC 133
• Hector Lombard eyes Mousasi rematch
• Dan Henderson wants a crack at "Bones"
Strikeforce lightweight titleholder Gilbert Melendez also took home a handsome haul, as “El Nino” pocketed $150,000 for his one-sided battle with former Shooto champ Tatsuya Kawajiri ($97,612.50).
Also earning $150,000 for his efforts was Dream light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi. The Red Devil representative fought UFC veteran Keith Jardine ($25,000) to a majority draw after being penalized a point in round one for landing an illegal upkick to Jardine’s face.
Another Dream champ, lightweight Shinya Aoki, took home $73,637.50 for his easy submission victory over Lyle Beerbohm ($10,000). In a battle of famously colorful ring attires, Aoki outclassed Beerbohm on the ground, locking up a fight-ending neck crank just 93 seconds into the bout.
Strikeforce “Diaz vs. Daley” payouts:
Nick Diaz -- $175,000 def. Paul Daley -- $65,000
Gilbert Melendez -- $150,000 def. Tatsuya Kawajiri -- $97,612.50
Gegard Mousasi -- $150,000 drew with Keith Jardine -- $25,000
Shinya Aoki -- $73,637.50 def. Lyle Beerbohm -- $10,000
Robert Peralta -- $4,000 (including $2,000 win bonus) def. Hiroyuki Takaya -- $2,740
Virgil Zwicker -- $3,000 (including $1,000 win bonus) def. Brett Albee -- $1,000
Joe Duarte -- $2,000 (including $1,000 win bonus) def. Saad Awad -- $1,500
Herman Terrado -- $1,500 (including $500 win bonus) def. A.J. Matthews -- $1,000
Rolando Perez -- $3,000 (including $1,000 win bonus) def. Edgar Cardenas -- $1,000
Casey Ryan -- $2,000 (including $1,000 win bonus) def. Paul Song -- $750
A funny thing happened to Keith Jardine on his way to reinvention as a middleweight -- somebody picked a fight with him. More accurately, he was offered a fight he couldn't refuse in Gegard Mousasi, widely considered a top-10 light heavyweight, on a week's notice.
How could he? How could he not? The very idea of fighting the "Dreamcatcher" had Jardine up in arms in Team Greg Jackson-like homage before the end of the phone call.
"I was having a great vacation, too, enjoying my new house in Albuquerque, and this sort of ruined my plans," Jardine said. "But you know what? I just have a hard time turning down fights. Especially now that Zuffa's involved. I just I have a hard time saying no, so what the heck."
Although the April 9 fight with Mousasi isn't technically a crosspromotional bout, it has the feel of one. Jardine is still synonymous with the UFC and Mousasi with Strikeforce. Jardine has beaten -- and lost to -- champions and former champions. Mousasi is a former champion who has made a career batting down a who's who of well-regarded middlegroundsmen. His last notable win was arguably against Ronaldo Souza via an upkick at the Dream Middleweight Grand Prix in 2008. Jardine went into a career tailspin by losing five fights in a row, including four in the UFC that forced the promotion to issue his walking papers.
Their trajectories are very different, and so are their styles. Mousasi uses spatial distance (known as the principle of ma-ai) to pick opponents apart; Jardine's is an unorthodox striking style with leg kicks that could obliterate spatial harmony.
But really, the fight is compelling for bigger reasons. Mousasi is in the process of defining; Jardine is in the process of redefining.
"Yeah, you know, I saw film on Mousasi for the first time [Saturday morning]," Jardine said. "Honestly, I've only heard of him, I haven't watched too much of him in the past. So I watched film this morning, and stylistically it's great, so I'm excited. He's held the Strikeforce belt before, so I get to fight another guy who's had the belt and is in the top-10 and all this. He's a worthy opponent. That's why I took it.
"At first I said, 'Man, I wish I had more time to game plan' and all that. But you know what? It's just a f---ing fight. You can overdo all that game planning and stuff. It's just a stupid fight. Let's just go do it, man."
In the tumult of the Rashad Evans/Jon Jones drama that's still playing out at Greg Jackson's place, Jardine wasn't planning on fighting again until late summer at the earliest, and very likely at middleweight. Just as Evans was going to set up camp away from Albuquerque, Jardine was looking to mix things up with his training by visiting some new gyms.
"I had a lot of plans of different things to do before my next fight," Jardine said. "My girlfriend [Jodie Esquibel] is fighting on the same night as me on April 9. She's a pro boxer, but she's doing her first MMA fight in Albuquerque. I was going to wait for her fight and then hit the road and train at a lot of different places and just work on my game. I promised myself I'd do a lot of stuff like that before I got my next fight, which I thought would be July or August. But like I said, I have a hard time saying no."
Even if Jardine beats Mousasi for his third win in a row, this might be the last time we see the "Dean of Mean" at 205 pounds for a long while.
"Yeah, I think so," he says. "In the long haul that's where I see myself. I feel like -- I haven't looked at Strikeforce too much yet, and I'm pretty excited about Zuffa owning it and everything. In the past I was looking at the 185 roster there, because I never cut weight very hard anyway. In fact, I'm a little chubby at 205, and I've never been real serious about my diet -- those guys in the top 10, [I] think I match up very well against.
"Even Anderson [Silva], that's a great fight."
NEWARK -- Count UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua among those who are jazzed about the influx of new faces soon to make their way into the Octagon.
While having lunch at a Brazilian restaurant in Newark on Monday, just five days before his first UFC title defense against Jon Jones, "Shogun" applauded Zuffa's landscape-changing splurge and said he was happy that his division -- just as the others -- would soon be crowded with talent.
"I think it's pretty cool, because now the UFC can get the best guys in all weight classes and match them up and have them fight," Rua told ESPN.com. "I think it's a really cool thing. And I think the acquisition of the heavyweight division is going to be very nice and very strong, and that's going to be fun. Now the UFC has many top fighters. Congratulations to Zuffa."
As he gets ready to face the freelance-striking Jones -- who has seemed completely invulnerable to punishment in seven UFC fights while dishing out plenty -- Rua also chimed in on another issue that would further open things up. That is, teammates fighting teammates.
"We are professional fighters, so I think we've got to fight," he said. "This is our job, so you have to fight. It's what you do for a living. Some people keep saying, 'I won't fight this guy, he's my friend,' or this or that, but I don't think that's fair. I think training is pretty close to the real thing and we train hard and it's our profession, so you have to fight and do your job."
Rua himself fought a teammate in Evangelista Santos in 2003 while still training out of Chute Boxe. That was a Meca World Vale Tudo event where things weren't nearly as civil. Today he and his brothers, Murilo "Ninja" Rua and Marcos "Shaolin" Rua, operate Universidade da Luta in Curitiba, Brazil, as a family.
Unlike Alistair Overeem, who needed a nanosecond to declare he'd fight Valentijn when pressed, Shogun says he would never fight one of his siblings. Just about everyone else, though, is on limits -- including his friends. Unless that friend is like a brother. And that is rarer than people like to think, he says.
"I think friends in life, if you're really talking about friends, you can count on your fingers," Rua said. "You're not going to have that many friends. So people are your friends, but it's not like they are your best friends, so you have to fight them, it's your job.
"The only guy I would not fight is Wanderlei Silva because I really have a special relationship with him that goes back a long way. Other than that, they are not your best friends and even though they are your friends, you have to do your job."
It's always a fun occasion when possibility crosses over into probability -- especially when possibility has forever felt more like fool's hope.
With the epic news of UFC's parent company Zuffa purchasing its primary competition Strikeforce, the doors are being slowly opened for fights that would otherwise never happen. Amid all the monopoly talk and whether it's healthy to eliminate promotional competition, to a fan of MMA this is what's known as the upshot. It might take a year or so as contracts play out between Strikeforce and Showtime, but it's only a matter of time before the world's pound-for-pound best fight under one promotion.
Alistair Overeem versus Cain Velasquez not as far-fetched as it once was. Georges St. Pierre versus Nick Diaz no longer strictly hypothetical. Fedor Emelianenko versus Brock Lesnar or Randy Couture? Fans want it, fans pay to watch, money makes fights. (Fedor's management obliging). Allure is still the main ingredient in matchmaking, and Joe Silva's Rolodex is on its way to becoming whole.
So what does it all mean for the future of MMA? For one, it means that P4P rankings are about to get a lot more homogenized. It also means there will be incredible depth at every weight as Strikeforce's elite make their way to the Octagon.
Here are eight Strikeforce fighters that will carry the most intrigue into the UFC, and some matchups that still seem too good to be true.
With two losses in a row, the "game is catching up to him" chants are loud enough to drown out the small matter of the 27 consecutive wins before that, but the game never catches up to must-see legacy and hype. Nor, it can be said, the fans' appreciation for the way Fedor fights. To see him finally step into the Octagon and face an opponent like Couture or Lesnar -- for so long off-limits and argued to death through speculation -- would be a "big moment." Big if for no other reason than most fans had grown used to the idea that they'd never see it. (And, truthfully, they still might not).
Dan Henderson left the UFC on the highest note possible -- by earning knockout of the year honors against Michael Bisping at UFC 100. People still thank him for it in passing. Since then, Hendo has knocked out Renato Sobral, and then Rafael Cavalcante for the light heavyweight belt. He nearly knocked out Jake Shields as well. That's what he does: He knocks people out, or he goes out trying. For a guy who'll happily fight in three weight classes, he could feasibly fight anybody from Chael Sonnen to Mauricio Rua to Junior dos Santos and still have likable chances.
Strikeforce's lightweight champ would be jumping into the deepest talent pool in MMA, but it's hard to imagine Gilbert Melendez and current UFC champion Frankie Edgar putting on anything other than an epic fight. And not just Edgar: Guillard, Guida, Pettis, Maynard, Jim Miller et al. The round robin matches at 155 -- already so competitive that most guys just below the top 10 are looking over the shoulder for fear of a pink slip -- get that much crazier with El Ni
One of the best get-out-of-jail free cards is tenure. The longer you've been around, and the more you've dug your heels into a relationship, the more leeway you have to screw up.
What happened in the closing moments of Strikeforce's second CBS telecast comes without the security of long-term placement. CBS, burned once by the bizarre behavior of EliteXC employees, found itself devoting prime-time minutes to Nick Diaz, Jake Shields and a dozen others from their Cesar Gracie team descending on Jason Miller after shoves were exchanged and egos bruised.
It was awkward, ugly and impossible to recover from.
This kind of school-yard stuff is not at all out of character for impassioned athletes who are running high on macho-bravado posturing and adrenaline. Baseball teams have swarmed one another; some get rushed with a bat. NBA players have elbowed, kicked and occasionally assaulted fans in the stands. (Never with bats, but give it time.)
Ball sports, however, have the benefit of history. We've never known a world without basketball, football or boxing, and the idea that any few individuals could sink a national pastime is never given any thought. The sports columnists will scold the offenders, the footage will get some airplay, and it's business as usual within the week. Boxing can even kill its participants (three in 2009 alone, if you're keeping track) without much fuss.
MMA does not have this luxury. As a result, scenes like this -- which, if we're being honest, are entertaining in their absurdity -- do nothing to enforce the idea this is an activity that deserves to occupy the public consciousness. Instead of offering perspective on his impressive, gutsy comeback win over Dan Henderson, Jake Shields is instead left to explain why his site of victory turned into a scene from "West Side Story."
MMA is still very much in the courtship stage of its relationship with the sports world. As of Sunday morning, it ran out of gas on a pretty major highway.
Next for Shields: A vacation and a lucrative contract.
Next for Henderson: The middleweight title, if it's vacated by Shields. He can beat just about any other middleweight in the promotion.
Next for Shinya Aoki: Out of the cage and into the tights.
The open-door policy award: The Tennessee Athletic Commission and the Bridgestone Arena security team, for allowing Jason Miller into the ring when he had no actual business being there.
The Merriam-Webster's award: Mauro Ranallo, for dropping both "halcyon" and "truculent" into his color commentary. A chimerical display of profligate if I've ever heard one.
The cold opening award: The commentary team, for delivering an extended, tiresome introductory monologue on the night's bouts without running any footage of the participants. Radio on television does not work.
The remedial reading award: Frank Shamrock, who insisted that he had discussed with Melendez the practice of punching Aoki in the throat. This would be illegal, as was Shamrock's kneeing Renzo Gracie in the head and clocking Phil Baroni with a foul shot. For a guy raised in the open-hand-slap civility of Pancrase, he's definitely got a mean streak.
Q: Is Mauro Ranallo in the wrong business?
A: I begrudge no one a living, but Ranallo's filed teeth can grow tiresome. When Aoki was finding himself utterly and inexorably lost against Melendez, Ranallo was imploring him to do something. But by that time, Aoki had seen virtually every shot of his stuffed and his striking rendered completely ineffective. What, exactly, is Aoki supposed to do?
Later, Ranallo idled in the margins of the screen as play-by-play man Gus Johnson tried to wring an explanation from Shields on the Team Gracie melee, stroking Shields' arm in an apparent attempt to muscle him out of the frame. If Johnson is leading the interview, why would Shields -- or Ranallo -- be the one to break off the conversation?
More than anything, Ranallo makes the viewer too aware of his presence. Good commentating is commentating you don't notice.
Q: The unanswerable question: Does position trump damage?
A: Kevin Randleman's corner nearly razed the Octagon when Bas Rutten was announced the winner in a 1999 title fight: Randleman had spent the majority of the fight on top, but it was Rutten who was busier with strikes from the bottom.
That dynamic replayed itself during the Lawal-Mousasi fight, with Mousasi delivering sharp, stinging blows to Lawal from off his back. Lawal, one eye swollen shut, was awarded the victory and the light heavyweight title.
Cumulative strikes delivered from the bottom are pestering, damaging and score-worthy, but -- with the exception of a well-timed up-kick to the jaw -- cannot end a fight. It must be acknowledged that the man on the bottom does not want to be there: His opponent has imposed his will, and that's a significant accomplishment.
Q: Is Bobby Lashley officially out of excuses?
Lashley, a capable and competent wrestler, is 5-0 in the sport but lacks even one performance against a ranked opponent; Lawal, 6-0 on Saturday morning, entered into a fight with top-10 ranked light heavyweight Mousasi and beat him. Fair or not, wrestlers are held to a different learning curve than other backgrounds. When is Lashley going to fight someone who can threaten him?
Q: Has Henderson's stock dropped?
A: Celebrated for his crushing of Michael Bisping in July, the 39-year-old Henderson entered the cage against Shields on Saturday looking slightly overweight and slightly amused at his spoon-fed debut against a welterweight.
For a round, it was no problem: Henderson's raw power crumbled Shields on multiple occasions, and Shields rose to his feet looking like he was full of regrets.
But he survived, and subsequent rounds saw Shields nail takedowns. By the third, he was sitting comfortably in mount and making arguments for 10-8 scoring. Shields left the ring looking like a prewrapped contender for Georges St. Pierre's welterweight title in the UFC; Henderson left looking as though his grand plans to capture multiple titles and perhaps even face Fedor Emelianenko was getting the cart a good 300 yards in front of the horse.
Henderson has lost before -- but never to a blown-up welterweight and never in such terribly one-sided fashion. On the heels of a very high-profile defection, this was a very high-profile defeat.
• Overnight numbers indicate that there are two stars for MMA on network television: Kimbo Slice and Fedor Emelianenko. Both men drew good-to-respectable viewers in their CBS fights, but without them, interest wanes. Only 2.63 million people tuned in for the two undercard title bouts Saturday. (Numbers for Henderson/Shields are TBD.) Strikeforce may come to regret not hustling Herschel Walker onto the card.
• Henderson attributed Shields' win in part to fatigue: "I just got a little tired for whatever reason," he said. The "for whatever reason" probably had something to do with going guns-out to finish Shields in the first round.
• Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker insisted he did not coerce Jason Miller into the cage to challenge Shields immediately following his victory. Miller, an aggravating presence who might amuse those who once jumped into an empty pool, shouldn't be blamed for wanting to draw attention -- the sport rewards it -- but he should've waited for interviewer Gus Johnson to finish with Shields and direct cage traffic.
• Coker also said he would reserve the right to penalize anyone involved in the mob. Considering Team Gracie's precedent for engaging in postfight drama, a good first step would to be severely limit the number of camp members (from any affiliation) allowed in the cage at any one time.
A good drubbing of Renato Sobral apparently has given Gegard Mousasi plenty of confidence against Brazilians. After former middleweight WEC champion Paulo Filho challenged him to a bout, Mousasi responded through USA Today, calling Filho a "little donkey" who needs "magic stuff" to perform. He does not mean vitamin C.
"We all saw what happened when he came to America," Mousasi said. "He got beat up. Now he's back in Japan and feels like a kid in a candy store, I think. He can use all kinds of steroids. I think the steroids have gone to his head. … He's a little donkey who thinks he's a running horse."
Filho had previously told Tatame that he would submit the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, a challenge egged on by that promotion's plans to co-promote with Filho's Dream employers. Expect a frothing Filho rebuttal shortly.
The value of being a poster girl: Gina Carano, who suffered her first professional loss Saturday at the piston-pumping hands of Cristiane Santos, earned $125,000 for the effort, according to numbers released by the California State Athletic Commission. Santos earned only a fraction of that, settling for $25,000 and Carano's still-beating heart.
Officially, the second-highest take-home salary from the card belonged to Jay Hieron, a capable (if under-the-radar) welterweight who banked $55,000 for his off-camera decision over Jesse Taylor; unofficially, the undisclosed salary of Gegard Mousasi was probably good for six figures, or something close to it.
Mousasi wasn't good for a lot of mass media attention -- though that could change if he keeps beating people to the extent that a coroner rushes into the ring instead of an EMT -- but Carano might be one of the best buys in the sport. For one weekend, at least.