Bellator 282 middleweight title challenger Johnny Eblen was all of twelve years old when Gegard Mousasi had his first professional fight.
The pair are only six years apart, but Mousasi’s career started out in 2003. Eblen, undefeated through 11 pro fights, turned pro in 2017 after a handful of amateur contests the year prior.
How does one prepare for an opponent with so much more experience, one who is quickly approaching his sixtieth fight? The secret appears to be that there isn’t one.
“Just train and get better every day. There’s no secret, there’s no special pill,” Eblen (11-0) told Cageside Press during Wednesday’s Bellator 282 media day. “There’s no secret, just go in and get better every day, and bring out the best Johnny Eblen and have fun. Just gonna let it fly, have fun Friday night.”
Eblen was aware of Mousasi when he first got into the sport, though as he recalled, he was “not really a fan of his. But I knew who he was.”
Instead, Eblen was drawn to some of the sport’s bigger names, and wrestlers like himself. “People I was really watching, was like, Chris Weidman I would watch. I remember I liked Rashad Evans, I liked King Mo because he was a wrestler, he’s my coach now. And a few others— Anderson Silva, big guys. Chael Sonnen, a lot of those guys.”
“King” Mo Lawal, a Bellator and Strikeforce veteran, has his own history with Mousasi. In 2010, a then-undefeated King Mo went up against a vastly more experienced Mousasi, and won — claiming the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship.
Lawal obviously had advice for Eblen ahead of his own title fight over a decade later. “He says I have more skillsets than he did at the time he beat him,” Eblen revealed. “So definitely think I’m gonna showcase a lot more things in my fight than he did in his fight. He was 6-0 at the time, really only knew how to wrestle, had a torn ACL. I have a completely different situation, so I’m excited to get in there and have fun.”
Eblen also recognizes the importance of a well-rounded game. “He’s one of the better guys in the world, you can’t go in there with one game plan and expect it to work. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but I’m planning on using everything, and having fun with it, and letting it fly.”
Should he pull off the upset on Friday at Bellator 282, there’s a possibility that Eblen could face Mousasi a second time, in an immediate rematch. A lot will depend on the nature of the fight, and whether the Dutch star chooses to move to light heavyweight instead.
Eblen doesn’t really care either way. “I’m a competitive dude. I like to fight. If it makes sense, it makes sense, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I’m game for a rematch, I’m game for fighting whoever in the division. Whoever has the next shot, I really don’t care.”
Watch the full Bellator 282 media day appearance by Johnny Eblen above. The event takes place this Friday, June 24, 2022 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT.