During his post-fight speech that night in Stockholm, the soft-spoken stand-up artist expressed his excitement in finally making his UFC debut after toiling for various overseas promotions for the majority of his career.
Only briefly did Mousasi mention the injury that plagued him coming into the fight.
In a conversation with Mousasi leading up to the Latifi bout – a fight that was originally scheduled against light heavyweight standout Alexander Gustafsson, until the Swede was forced out due to injury – it was evident that things weren’t going as planned. He wouldn’t elaborate, but there was a hint of discontent in his voice.
Now that the fight is over with Mousasi winning a dominant three-round decision, the Armenian-Dutch fighter elaborated on his angst leading up to the bout.
“I wasn’t hesitating to fight, because I wanted to fight,” Mousasi told MMAWeekly.com. “I trained for a fight, and I already had my schedule for my operation. I didn’t have an ACL.”
Mousasi fully intended to fight Gustafsson with a blown-out knee.
“At the end of my training, my knee, on the ground, was giving me trouble. My knee would pop out, and I would have to stretch it and put it back in. It was hurtful. (But) I just wanted to fight, because I had put a lot of work in.”
Being a heavy favorite over Latifi, people could assume that “The Dreamcatcher” only took a fight with the late replacement because of a presumed lack of risk.
That was simply not the case. For Mousasi, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make his UFC debut. He was prepared to fight Gustafsson, and he would have fought anybody.
“I trained for a fight. I just wanted to fight,” stated the 27-year-old. “Wanderlei Silva was joking about taking the fight; I would have gladly fought Wanderlei Silva. My manager told me that Vitor Belfort was talking about taking the fight – Vitor wanted to step up – I would have gladly fought him also.”
Now with the surgery completed, Mousasi is back to training and slowly returning to the routine of being a professional fighter, although he is tight-lipped when discussing details of his recovery.
“I feel very good. I’m training two times a day, and I’m taking (the recovery) very serious,” said Mousasi.
“I know I’ll be 100-percent by the end of the year. If I can’t fight in November, December, then hopefully January. I feel very good. The operation was successful and I expect a full recovery.”
That timetable could line Mousasi up to fight in one of the few places he’s never fought: The Fight Capital of the World. The Iranian-born contender has fought across the globe, but surprisingly, never in Sin City.
“You know, I’ve never fought in Vegas. I think that would be a cool experience,” said Mousasi with a hint of excitement, a rarity for the often-stoic UFC newcomer. “I’d like to fight in the U.S. I’d like to fight in Vegas. That would be a new experience.”
Whether he gets to fight in Las Vegas next or not, Mousasi’s sights are set on one thing: the quickest road to a title… any title.
“Maybe I need to prove more since I haven’t fought in the UFC often,” he stated. “So, maybe another win would get me a (light heavyweight) title shot. The same thing at middleweight, I have a history.
“I’ve won belts outside the UFC in Japan at middleweight. I have a history behind me, so I could also fight at middleweight. Maybe even at middleweight – if I get one or two big name wins under me – I could get a title shot.”
He mentions middleweight names like Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva, but Mousasi is quick to point out that his interest in middleweight is finding the quickest route to UFC gold. He isn’t running away from the light heavyweight division’s reigning resident of destruction, Jon Jones.
“People are acting like I’m scared to fight Jon Jones,” said the irritated veteran.
“I’ve fought heavier guys. I’ve fought K-1. I’m all for challenges. I’m not scared of anyone,” he declared. “If they give me a fight, I fight.
“At the highest level, I don’t want to give any advantage to my opponent. Style-wise, I match up also better with Anderson Silva. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to fight Jon Jones, or whatever. If the UFC gives me the (quickest) way to the title, that’s the way I’m going to go. Whoever they give me, I’m going to fight.”
And what if the quickest route happens to be a fight with “The Spider”?
“Anderson Silva is more of a stand-up fighter. I feel a size advantage, I won’t be giving him,” explains Mousasi. “I feel strength-wise it won’t be any different. So strength and size, I don’t think will be an issue, and I feel he’s much more of a stand-up fighter.
“So it’s much easier to be aggressive and go forward and fight him. Style-wise, he’s a much better match-up. When you fight Jon Jones, he constantly wants to bring you down (to the ground), so it’s a different style. It’s a different way of fighting. I feel I would match up better against Anderson Silva, but that’s just my opinion.”
Having amassed 21 victories, one defeat, and one draw since 2006, Mousasi is primed for a title shot. With the current lay of the land in the UFC, however, he is admittedly at least one fight removed either champion. But fighters get injured on a regular basis and title fights at times pop up on a moment’s notice. That fact, Mousasi’s ability to move between weight classes with ease, and his willingness to fight anybody, could put the international standout in a battle for a belt sooner rather than later.
“I wouldn’t mind either; as long as I get a title shot,” he commented. “I’m willing to fight anybody.
“Of course I have to go step by step, but my goal is the title. I don’t want to be just another fighter in the UFC.”
(Follow @RyanMcKinnell on Twitter)