It took Bellator’s John Salter over six years and eight wins in nine fights to earn his first crack at a title.
But when Salter (18-4) gets his shot Friday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena in the main event of Bellator 264, he’ll be staring down middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi, a man who knows all about longevity in the sport.
Mousasi, 36, will be making the first title defense in his second reign as champion and will look to showcase his well-rounded array of skills that have made him one of the top fighters in the world for nearly two decades.
"The first time I fought for the belt it was a different feeling because it was my goal for a long time," Mousasi said. "But in my last fight against Douglas Lima and going into this one I haven’t been thinking about the belt. It’s not about defending the belt, it’s about focusing on my opponents."
Salter (18-4, 8-1 Bellator) is an experienced grappler with six submission wins in Bellator. Only one of his nine fights has gone the distance.
"If I can, I will take Salter down one hundred percent," Mousasi said. "I think he will look for the takedown constantly and if he fails, I wouldn’t mind punching him and doing some ground and pound on him. That’s definitely an option to go on the ground."
Mousasi (47-7-2, 5-1) is striving for the finish whether it’s on the ground or on the feet after what he described as two less-than-exciting fights in his last two outings.
"My last two fights were decision fights, so I’m not satisfied," he said. "But it was also the style of the fighter, Douglas Lima didn’t bring the fight to me. This guy needs the takedowns to win the fight. I’m not going to lay down and fight from my back. My plan is to get right back up and if it’s necessary fight him. If it needs to be technical standing up, I don’t think he can hang with me there."
Salter, 36, knows this is the opportunity he’s been working toward for years.
"It’s been a long road," Salter said. "I’ve been fighting for a long time. A lot of big fights. It seems like I get a big fight, I win and then I end up fighting a lower-ranked person and people forget about me. I think this is a fight that will really cement where I am in the world of MMA at 185 pounds."
A win would bring Mousasi closer to being able to take on more challenges, including potentially fighting the winner of the Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix.
But for now his focus is on retaining his title.
"I’m a professional and as a professional you do your work and you show up and make weight," Mousasi said. "I have had fights where I was less motivated and had a setback but you bounce back."