UFC

Mousasi comeback continues

Gegard Mousasi enters the UFC with high expectations.
Gegard Mousasi enters the UFC with high expectations.
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A.J. Perez

A.J. Perez previously worked at USA Today, AOL and CBSSports.com, covering beats ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the NHL. He has also been a finalist for an Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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Gegard Mousasi gets a new opponent for UFC on Fuel TV 9. His new opponent won’t get the best Mousasi.

“After surgery, it’s been difficult to prepare physically for this fight,” Mousasi told FOXSports.com. “I have changed a bit. I don’t think I will be able to do what I did in the past.”

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Mousasi was originally slated to face Alexander Gustafsson, who was forced out of the event after he sustained a deep facial cut in training. Ilir Latifi, a training partner of Gustafsson’s, has been tapped as a replacement for what will be a three-round light heavyweight bout atop the UFC on Fuel TV 9 card in Stockholm on Saturday.

Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET.

Mousasi was sidelined all of 2012 after he tore his ACL in training, an injury that required surgery and a lengthy rehab. He returned for the Strikeforce finale in January, where he submitted Mike Kyle with a rear-naked choke in the first round.

The impressive win, however, didn’t give Mousasi the sense he was all the way back from the knee injury as he's set to make his UFC debut.

“Things are just different now,” Mousasi said. “It’s been difficult the last couple of weeks in training.”

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While only 27, Mousasi has been in the fight game a while with a record of 33-3-2.

His first pro fight took place a decade ago, and he fought for several different organizations, including Dream and K-1. Six of his last 10 fights were in Strikefroce, where he earned the light heavyweight belt with a victory over Renato Sobral in August 2009.

Mousasi lost the Strikeforce title in his first defense, a controversial unanimous decision to Muhammed Lawal. In 2013, he was brought into the UFC fold after the Strikeforce merger was complete. 

Mousasi has won five of his last six fights, the exception being a draw to Keith Jardine two years ago. Of those six fights, only the draw and one other bout -- which came against Ovince St. Preux -- went to the judges’ score cards.

“Most of the time, you are fighting to finish,” Mousasi said of his recent string of submissions. “That Jardine fight was tough. I just wasn’t able to finish the guy. Jardine just kept going and going. I couldn’t knock him out. He took every punch and nothing worked.”

One thing that Mousasi won’t have worry about is a five-round fight, something that would have occurred had Gustafsson been able to fight. The bout was switched to a three-rounder once Latifi, who is also making his UFC debut, was selected as the replacement.

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Like Gustafsson, Latifi is Swedish. That means he’ll have the backing of the home crowd at Ericsson Globe Arena. Mousasi, in an interview before the switch was made, said he won’t let the crowd be a factor and that there was a least one positive.

“I don’t have to deal with jetlag, “Mousasi said.

The Netherlands have been home for Mousasi since he emigrated there from Iran with his family at age 9.

“I think my parents wanted us to have a better future where we could make our own decisions,” Mousasi said.

One of those decisions that would shape Mousasi’s life came after he was involved in a scuffle at school along with a couple friends. It was a shoving match more than anything, although the police were involved and Mousasi said one of his friends got arrested.

“After that, my father brought me to a judo place,” Mousasi said. “Then I got into boxing.”

Obviously, it eventually turned into a career. Mousasi may sound as if it’s become a grind and he’s not enjoyed himself as of late, but according to him, that's not entirely true. Overall, he said he’s still motivated to fight -- even if he doesn’t appear to trust his knee.

“I want to fight two to three times per year, until I'm 30 or 35, and make a run for the 205 belt,” Mousasi said. “If I don’t get a chance, I’ve had success at 185 and I’ll try to win a title there. If those things don't work out, what’s left to do? I did my best.”

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