Bellator has loaded their 200th event in London, and it will be headlined by the collision between middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho and Gegard Mousasi.
When Bellator celebrates their 200th, they will be doing so with one of the best championship fights in company history. Rafael Carvalho is undefeated in Bellator, but seeks the validation that only comes with dispatching an elite star. Gegard Mousasi has big plans for the latest chapter of his career, but they don’t begin without first winning the middleweight championship.
Rafael Carvalho has only tasted defeat once in his professional career, and it came in his first fight. Since then, he has won an impressive 15 straight fights. In that span, Carvalho has gone to decision only three times. He has been in Bellator since 2014 and been their world champion since 2015. And yet, he often is overlooked compared to the other stars of the promotion. The situation has only worsened as the influx of free-agent talent has left Bellator looking more different than ever before. As more fighters are called to be part of the party, it is not lost on Carvalho that he is at times forgotten. He admitted as much last year stating “I am never called to watch the big Bellator cards,” referring to the fact that he has not been invited by the company to attend events and promote the organization.
If there is one knock on Carvalho, it has been that he has ruled the division at a time when there is a lack of depth. His most notable wins were against Brandon Halsey, who subsequently lost back-to-back fights, and Melvin Manhoef, who has not fought since (he subsequently retired from kickboxing, but recently re-signed with Bellator MMA). That is all expected to change when he faces Gegard Mousasi, who enters the promotion on a six fight win-streak and was on track to earn a title shot in the UFC before signing with Bellator.
For Mousasi, the fight against Carvalho is the first of what he is hoping to be several marquee bouts in his new promotion. He has openly stated that he hopes to have a champion vs champion fight against Rory MacDonald if he is victorious. He has also said he wouldn’t be completely opposed to a berth in the Heavyweight Grand Prix were it to come up.
“The Dreamcatcher” has one of the most decorated resumes in mixed martial arts, holding championships in Strikeforce, Dream, and Cage Warriors. He was on the brink of challenging for the UFC title last year, but with a field that contained Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero, Luke Rockhold, and “Jacare” Souza, he was faced with a logjam. As a result, he was looking at potentially more than a year before he could challenge for the belt. At 32 years old, Mousasi is looking to quickly accomplish the most that he can as the prime of his career winds down. In Bellator, the freedom to move weight-classes and receive marquee billing every time only helps to boost his profile at this stage of his career.
Stylistically, the key for Mousasi will be getting inside the long range of Carvalho and using his grappling. The Dutchman is a competent boxer but he gives up a lot in terms of reach and explosiveness to the Brazilian champion. As such, his best route to success is getting the fight to the mat where it nullifies Carvalho’s formidable striking.
For the champion, his strategy should be to use his hands to set up his powerful leg kicks. Carvalho is not known for being high volume striker so he should look to deliver damage early to Mousasi as to slow him down in the later rounds. A steady stream of kicks will hurt the challengers’ mobility and allow Carvalho to throw bigger combinations as the fight goes on.
Rafael Carvalho would undoubtedly be looking for more marquee opportunities should he defeat Mousasi, and already names like Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (a noted ‘moneyweight’) stand-out as possible challengers in the future. For Gegard Mousasi, bigger events likely await as Bellator continues to expand as a company. For either man to enjoy the spoils of victory, however, they must first go through the other in what many are anticipating to be a titanic collision.