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Past exploits forgotten and set up to fail, Gegard Mousasi aims to refresh short memories

Just a couple of weeks ago while Gegard Mousasi was training for his UFC debut, thieves broke into his home and stole a few things were rightfully his, earned by his hard work, and when he reported it to the authorities, no one seemed to care. The story is analogous to his professional life as a fighter, where his past seems to have been ripped away from him with no regard for the effort it took to build it. Ten years and multiple titles into his career, Mousasi is, in the eyes of many, just another guy making his octagon debut, an overhyped, serial can-crusher about to face his first real dose of reality. Paired up with surging Swede Alexander Gustafsson on his home turf at UFC on FUEL 9, Mousasi was ostensibly set up as the last hurdle on the way to an eventual date with Jon Jones. Right off the bat, oddsmakers made the local star a -260 favorite, and the number only deepened in Gustafsson’s favor until news of his fight-threatening laceration leaked out.It was as if all the stuff that came before didn’t matter.Mousasi has on his hit list brand names like Hector Lombard and Melvin Manhoef, Ronaldo Jacare Souza and Renato Babalu Sobral. Even Mark Hunt — yes, that Mark Hunt, the Samoan smasher now in UFC title contention — went down to the Dreamcatcher, in 79 seconds, no less. Mousasi’s beaten middleweights and light-heavyweights and heavyweights. He’s captured championships in Strikeforce and DREAM. He’s finished 29 of his 33 career wins, and has an .895 win percentage.Somehow, that is the resume of a sizable underdog.Somehow, in our short-memory sport, that history is soundly trumped by a couple of decision wins over Mauricio Shogun Rua and Thiago Silva. MMA isn’t as simple as what’s come before, of course, but on some level, this shouldn’t make sense.I don’t pay attention to those things, he told MMA Fighting. I really don’t care. I‘d rather have the underdog position than the favorite because I’ve been the underdog for a long time. I don’t mind fighting that way. It‘s not going to change the result of the fight.It’s a matchup that Mousasi likes, even though in a way, he feels like he is being set up. The way he sees it, the UFC is in the business of building credible contenders. Gustafsson is young and good, and he connects with an emerging European market. Most importantly, he is home-grown, a talent found early on who has blossomed under the Zuffa banner. His progress was deliberate and measured to give him his best chance of advancing to title contendership.Mousasi doesn’t necessarily have a problem with this. In his eyes, Gustafsson has proven his mettle and his worth, even if his path was somewhat guided. Sometimes they bring a fighter to a certain level, and with some fighters they throw you against the toughest competition, and if they lose, they’re never the same, he said. I think they’re building him up the correct way. Other than that, he won his fights, so you can’t say anything bad about that. But they‘re building him up towards a title shot.Mousasi believes he is part of this plan, a former champion with credibility to the sport’s observers but little name recognition to the wider UFC world. Asked if he believes the UFC expects Gustafsson to beat him, he doesn’t hesitate.I think so, he said. But I asked for this fight also myself, so I can’t say the matchmaking isn‘t good or whatever. It‘s a good matchup, it’s an exciting matchup. I feel like we are both top 10 so it makes sense to fight each other.It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly Mousasi finds himself in this situation, as an ultra-successful fighter deemed certain to lose. Most likely, it is due to the lingering memories from his fights with Muhammed Lawal and Keith Jardine. In the first, he was out-pointed by Lawal largely due to the takedown game. Mousasi actually out-landed Lawal 171-124 over the course of the five-round bout and did the majority of the damage, shutting Lawal’s left eye, but Lawal’s 11 takedowns swayed the judges. Against Jardine, the final strike tally was far more lopsided in his favor, by a 146-21 count, but an illegal upkick cost him a point, and he ended up with a draw. Somehow, those performances seem to count more than say, Gustafsson’s submission defeat to Phil Davis, which happened one week before Mousasi lost to Lawal.It has been two years since Mousasi’s last bad performance, yet it still taints perception of him even though he has overhauled his training. In the past, he said, he had only one coach that he’d see once or twice a week, but now he has separate coaches for kickboxing, boxing wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and strength and conditioning.I think my training wasn‘t bad, he said. I was doing a lot of sparring. Maybe I wasn’t perfecting my skills but I was able to fight. It got me to a certain level but when you reach a high level, you realize every detail counts. Back then I was doing running and a lot of sparring so I felt I was prepared and seasoned. But now I’m looking at the details and t…

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