Motivation is a funny thing. Enough of it can have an old lady on the news explaining how she lifted a car off her trapped granddaughter, while when it’s lacking, that same old lady might not be able to get herself out of bed in the morning.
In the world of sports, motivation is more key than perhaps in any other walk of life. Fans and media watch and dissect everything a pro athlete does, and if those athletes lack motivation they lack one of the fundamental bases required to perform at a high level.
Combat sports feels that influence even more so, as the inherent risk of a combat athlete lacking motivation comes in the form of potentially great physical and mental harm. Look no further than B.J. Penn, as he is one of the most notable examples of how motivation can defeat a man before he ever makes it to the cage. In fights against Jens Pulver or Diego Sanchez, he was hungry and motivated and left remarkable destruction in his wake. Against Frankie Edgar (both times) and Nick Diaz, he looked listless and bored and was an unceremonious loser as a result.
Behind Penn, the most baffling mixed martial artist out there in terms of motivation is current Strikeforce star Gegard Mousasi. When he’s on, he’s utterly ruthless. When he’s not, he’s completely content to walk into the cage and eke out a lame win or lose an uninspired decision. He remains stoic regardless, so disinterested that his facial expressions rarely vary from bland indifference no matter what.
However, much like Penn, Mousasi harnesses some of the greatest natural skill in the sport. He’s not yet 27, however he’s been a force at 185 lbs. and 205 lbs. for his entire adult life with his smooth striking and exceptionally complementary ground game. When he decides he wants to beat you up, you’re getting beat up and it doesn’t matter who you are—it’s getting him to make that decision that proves difficult.
One way to inspire him? A UFC contract.
As it stands, he’s more apt to rematch "King Mo" Lawal or throw leather with Feijao Cavalcante in Strikeforce, and while those guys are tough customers, they aren’t likely to inspire Mousasi the way Lyoto Machida or Shogun Rua might.
To put it simply, Gegard Mousasi needs to be in the UFC to give him a reason to keep fighting. He’s talked at length about trying to leave the fight game young before he ruins his body and mind, and he’s also said he’s going to commit to proper training camps and a more MMA-focused regimen until that exit happens. The last piece of the puzzle is finding him fights that matter to him, because without them he could just as easily end up back in Holland enjoying that early retirement.
Strikeforce isn’t the place for Gegard Mousasi. He’s in the game to fight big names and make big money, and the promotion can’t guarantee him either these days. He has all the talent in the world, more than enough to reign over whichever division he chooses to compete in.
It’s the motivation that’s missing, and he won’t find it anywhere other than in the UFC.