Khabib Nurmagomedov’s sudden retirement from mixed martial arts last weekend was an example of an all-time great calling it a career in their prime. It also was a stark contrast to the conclusion of Anderson Silva’s career this weekend, which many find to be a few fights too late.
Somewhere in the middle lies Gegard Mousasi.
While Mousasi (46-7-2) never achieved the UFC glory of Nurmagomedov and Silva, the 35-year-old has been among the sport’s most skilled fighters for nearly two decades, competing in Pride, Dream, Strikeforce, UFC and Bellator MMA, plus a handful of kickboxing bouts. He now is navigating the twilight of his fighting days with care, preparing for a graceful resolution.
"After this year, two more years, that's going to be certain, and then after that I have to look at the body, look at the results, and then we've got to decide if we continue maybe another year," Mousasi said. "But I'm not going to continue to 40, that's one thing for sure."
The former Bellator middleweight champion still is very much a force in the sport, evident by his bout Thursday for the vacant 185-pound title against current welterweight champion Douglas Lima. The fight serves as the main event of Bellator 250 behind closed doors at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Unlike Nurmagomedov, 32, Mousasi has yet to have a reason to end things early. Unlike Silva, 45, his career has yet to sour.
Mousasi said Silva "tarnished his legacy" somewhat by sticking around as fights continued to not go his way and believes he’d recognize it happening to himself sooner.
"At this moment, as the results come, if I keep win, lose, win, lose, that's a sign that you're not what you think you are. I think I've lost one in the last 10 fights, and I bounced back," said the Dutch fighter. "At this moment, I feel great. To be honest, in training I was better than ever. I'm stronger physically, mentally as well."
Mousasi enters the bout with a 4-1 record in Bellator and a 9-1 mark since 2016, his only loss coming against the now retired champion Rafael Lovato Jr. Mousasi answered that loss with a victory over Lyoto Machida in September 2019.
A veteran in his own right, 32-year-old Lima holds in high regard the career of Mousasi and still sees his opponent as a significant obstacle across multiple weight classes.
"He’s a gamer," Lima said. "He’s been in this sport for a long time, he’s fought the who’s who. Fought heavyweight, light heavyweight, I know it’s a tough challenge. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward."
Lima believes the long, varied course helped Mousasi develop a well-rounded game.
"Mousasi really is a complete fighter. He’s good everywhere. He’s a great striker, good wrestler, really good on the ground," Lima said. "We’ve just got to find the right timing, connect a good punch and be ready to fight five rounds."
Should Mousasi get his way, as well as a win on Thursday, he’s got a few ideas of what he’d like to do to close out his time in the sport.
"I've never fought in Holland, at least since the beginning of my career, but no one knew me," Mousasi said. "At this stage of my career to fight for my home crowd is one of the things I want to do, one of my goals to be honest.
"Now, [Bellator is] working with Showtime and CBS, so maybe a boxing fight, but I don't know how realistic that is. I think if I want to do that after great performances in the next couple of fights, maybe just for fun to do that because I always grew up with boxing and that was my dream to be a boxing champion so maybe a fun fight. I'm open to that."