Gegard Mousasi may not be able to fight again until the end of the year following knee surgery, but he's already eyeing potential matchups including the top fighters in the middleweight division.
It's been almost five years since Mousasi last fought at middleweight, and at the time he conquered the best of the best while competing in DREAM, including his grand prix tournament final against current top-10 ranked UFC fighter Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza.
Following that fight, however, Mousasi said the weight cut to middleweight was getting pretty tough, so he was going to try his hand at light heavyweight and heavyweight instead. Mousasi went on to win nine out of his next 11 fights while picking up victories over notable names like Mark Hunt and Renato "Babalu" Sobral.
Now just one fight into his UFC career, Mousasi is re-assessing things and believes that a move back down to middleweight could bring him very close to a title shot with just a single fight in the division.
"I really feel there is a big chance I will go to middleweight," Mousasi told Bleacher Report on Tuesday. "Of course we have to talk to the UFC, but I think it's all about matchups. It depends on who I get. Say I get a top guy in the middleweight top three, maybe No. 2 or 3 it would be the best thing to fight at middleweight. If I get maybe get a guy in the top three at light heavyweight, that could be a fight that would intrigue me. I don't have any problem fighting at 205, but I believe at 185 I will have more success.
"It's all about matchups. I want the big matchups so I can go for the title."
Mousasi admits that he's fighting with a bit of a chip on his shoulder since moving to the UFC, because, despite plenty of history and wins over some of the best competitors in the sport, since those fights weren't in the Octagon, he's not being shown the same level of respect as some other fighters. He holds wins over many top-rated fighters, but since it didn't take place in the UFC, he feels he's being overlooked somehow.
Beating a top-three middleweight would certainly erase any doubts.
"People always underestimate me. Other fighters, they always get credit, but somehow they always judge me like I'm overrated or I'm not good enough," Mousasi stated. "I believe I should get more credit like other fighters. Other fighters lose and they still say oh he's great, but I lost once and people still give me s—t about that. That's why I want to fight the big names."
When looking at the top of the middleweight rankings currently, according to the UFC, the three names listed as the upper echelon include Chris Weidman, Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami. Mousasi says sign any of them up, and he'll happily knock them down.
"As long as it's a top-three guy," Mousasi said about his middleweight wishlist. "I think I can matchup very well against any middleweight. Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, (Yushin) Okami, I want to fight guys I haven't fought. I've fought a lot of guys outside the UFC and people don't get me the credit. Somehow you have to prove yourself in the UFC, I believe against well-known UFC fighters. Anyone would be just fine."
The end goal for Mousasi by next year is to get into a position where he can battle for the UFC middleweight title. There is something special about that belt because, since 2006, Anderson Silva has been the one clutching the gold and defending it with ruthless aggression.
Like a lot of fighters, Mousasi knows being the person to finally take the crown from Silva's head would be special, but he's just about getting the title no matter who holds it at the time.
"Everyone wants to fight Anderson Silva. I think that's the problem. For me it's all about the title shot. If I can beat him, I get the title," Mousasi commented. "That's my goal, winning the title. To get that opportunity that's what I want. I want the big fights."
Before he can get those big fights, Mousasi first needs to finish rehabbing his injured knee, and then once he's cleared to return to training, he and his management will discuss their options for his next fight. No matter who it is, Mousasi is ready to face the best, and the top fighters better be ready because he's coming for them.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.