Gegard Mousasi won his much-anticipated Bellator MMA debut against Alexander Shlemenko at Bellator 185 -- but it was anything but easy.
The former longtime Bellator middleweight champ Shlemenko stunned Mousasi early with an overhand left, and that made all the difference, as it swelled Mousasi's right eye shut and dictated the remainder of the bout. The blow also forced his foe to shoot a takedown, which he eventually secured.
While Mousasi advanced position to the back and worked for a rear-naked choke for over a minute, Shlemenko escaped and returned to his feet... just for Mousasi to take him down again. This time around, though, Shlemenko scored with a sweep, and Mousasi swiveled for a triangle choke before eating a massive shot from the top courtesy of Shlemenko. The round ended there, and both men regrouped for Round 2.
Mousasi wore the effects of Round 1 clearly, however, and the doctor had to investigated his swollen right eye. The bout was in limbo momentarily, but the doctor eventually ruled Mousasi was fit to continue, and the second frame began.
Round 2 was more of the same, with Shlemenko landing with power shots while Mousasi looked to take things to the mat. With a minute and a half left in the round, Mousasi got his takedown and worked again to Shlemenko's back, where he then chipped away with strikes and looked for the choke once more.
Shlemenko's defense was on point, though, and he gave a double thumbs up to show that everything was just fine as the bell signaled the round's conclusion.
In Round 3, Shlemenko came out swinging with that same overhand left and some kicks, including those of the spinning variety. Mousasi, meanwhile, calmly stalked his opponent and jabbed, clearly looking to close the distance and secure another takedown. Shlemenko wasn't having it, and he shucked off a couple early attempts and countered with knees and a spinning backfist, putting Mousasi on the defensive briefly.
"The Dreamcatcher" regrouped midway through the round and pushed Shlemenko against the cage, where he then secured the body lock.
Just as things seemed to be going his way, Shlemenko hit a beautiful trip. landing the takedown himself and forcing Mousasi to escape from the bottom this time. They quickly returned to the feet, where Shlemenko again blasted Mousasi with the overhand left.
As the round came to a close, it was clear we were in for some chaos on the judges' cards. The contest was close, but all three judges saw it 29-28 for Mousasi in the end.
The win moves Mousasi to 43-6-2 overall and sets him up for big things inside the Bellator MMA cage. Mousasi told FloCombat he only wants gold next, and while his win was debatable, he very well could get that next. One thing is clear: It's only up for the former Strikeforce champion as he moves forward under the Bellator banner.