Styles are a funny thing. While the old adage of them making fights is merited, the purest form of martial arts is one without a distinguishable style. The ultimate goal of a martial artist should be the mastery of all styles yet the reliance on none. The style-less fighter is an anomaly in modern MMA, with the most popular martial artists having unique brands of fighting. Conor McGregor looks like Conor McGregor from one fight to the next while the Nick and Nate Diaz have had great success with their trademark approach to a fight. The styles of McGregor and the Diaz brothers is a significant contributor to their wide appeal and mainstream fame. It is therefore possible, that Gegard Mousasi’s lack of trademark style has stunted his promotional growth.
Mousasi is an adaptive fighter. He changes his approach depending on what is appropriate given his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, against a wrestler like Latifi, Mousasi was bent at the waist and held his hands low. Throwing single strikes, Mousasi maintained distance by keeping Latifi at the end of his punches. His jab was particularly long and beautiful. He would flick it out at rapid pace and from further out than normal by rotating his hips almost 90 degrees to the point of adopting a long, side on stance similar to a karateka. This meant that his jab was in its longest form and Latifi couldn’t close the distance enough to shoot for a takedown. Mousasi also stood in a lower stance to accommodate the sprawl whenever Latifi did shoot. Unable to get the fight to the ground, Latifi was forced to fight standing up, where he had a significant height disadvantage to Mousasi, resulting in his strikes being restricted to overhands. Mousasi would throw a jab and exit causing Latifi to swing and miss constantly.
In contrast, against a dangerous striker like Uriah Hall, Mousasi stood upright, not worried about the takedowns but cautious of the strikes. Mousasi had previously been knocked out by Hall’s spinning back kick, when he had wrongly anticipated a high kick and bent down only to be caught by a strike aimed for his chest. Learning from his mistake, Mousasi constantly stepped back in the rematch to avoid being caught by flashy kicks again. He would adjust every time he felt he had got too close, too soon. Yet the objective was to close the range and initiate the grappling exchanges where he held a significant advantage. After constantly jabbing the Jamaican, Mousasi forced Hall to raise his guard by feinting a cross, leaving an opening for the takedown. Once on the ground, Mousasi made quick work of Hall.
In a kickboxing contest against Kyotaro Fujimoto, Mousasi adopted a single strike strategy. Kyotaro likes to have his opponents chase him. Once he has drawn his opponent out, he would break their combination by beating them to the second punch. This strategy was most famously used by Evander Holyfield in this victories over Mike Tyson, and brought Jersey Joe Walcott much success over the course of his boxing career. Mousasi used jabs and push kicks to score points early. Since the threat of the takedown was absent, Mousasi did not hesitate to throw teeps (push kicks). This forced Kyotaro to come forward and press the offensive, a position he does not enjoy being in. Whenever they clinched, Mousasi landed knees. To avoid the knees, Kyotaro began to push Mousasi away. However, he did so without tucking his chin behind his shoulders. Mousasi saw the opening and landed a right hook as Kyotaro pushed him away.
In fight analysis and quick reactions to openings are common in Mousasi’s fights. At UFC 200, he faced Thiago Santos, a black belt in Muay Thai. Mousasi held a high guard and stood very light on the front foot, ready to check kicks; a traditional Muay Thai stance. Respecting Santos’ striking abilities, he avoided a brawl by immediately getting his head out of the centre line following a strike. Being patient, he held his strikes back until he was presented with openings in Santos’ guard. When Santos left his face opened, Mousasi landed a cross. Santos was rocked and Mousasi pounced. After nearly finishing the fight on the ground, Mousasi once against displayed his reactionary capabilities by landing an uppercut as Santos recklessly tried to stand up with Mousasi towering over him.
While Mousasi’s general approach will change from fight to fight, the one constant throughout his career has been his jab. The jab is the building block on which elite striking is built. A jab can be powerful or a flick and Mousasi possesses the ability to alternate between the two seamlessly. He rocked Thales Leites several times with stiff jabs but focused on volume over power when he flick jabbed Ilir Latifi for 15 minutes on his UFC debut.
Mousasi’s approach against former middleweight champion Chris Weidman at UFC 210 will have shades of his methodology against Latifi. Weidman is an excellent wrestler and Mousasi will have to use the jab, low guard and lower stance to maintain distance and keep the fight standing.
In a division in turmoil with the champion set to defend the title against a welterweight, Mousasi vs. Weidman is as high stakes as it gets. Weidman is coming off back to back losses. A defeat against Mousasi will relegate him to the doldrums of the division. For Mousasi, a veteran of the sport, it’s his chance to force himself to the top of the queue at 185. He has been a champion, competed in almost all major promotions and fought all comers (including Mark Hunt at heavyweight). A win against Weidman will take him a step closer to the UFC championship, the final feather in his illustrious career.