Gegard Mousasi's path toward a UFC title is either about to hit the expressway or detour in the coming weeks. The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion will face former UFC 205-pound strap holder Lyoto Machida in the main event at Fight Night 36 on Feb. 15 in Brazil.
While "The Dragon" made his successful middleweight debut against Mark Munoz back in October, Mousasi's bout with Machida will be his first at 185 pounds under the UFC banner, and mark the first time he's competed in the weight class since 2008. Where the Dutch/Armenian fighter made a successful promotional debut as a light heavyweight against Ilir Latifi at UFC on Fuel TV 9, he saw the middleweight division as a more fitting road to championship gold.
During a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, the 27-year-old told Ariel Helwani he believes a victory over Machida will put him within striking distance of a title shot:
Getting the chance to fight Machida, I'm excited. Maybe I can get the chance to fight for the title after this because there is not many contenders at middleweight at this moment, I believe. So, at this moment, I'm more excited and this is a fight I cannot lose. I must win, and this is the mentality going into the fight.
With the current situation in the middleweight division, Mousasi's notion of earning a potential title shot may not be too far off. Former 185-pound king Anderson Silva is out of the picture for the foreseeable future, and the division is moving on without him. Champion Chris Weidman will face Vitor Belfort sometime this summer, and there are no clear-cut contenders beyond that matchup.
Should Mousasi be able to defeat his fellow elite-level striker, it would be hard to deny his place in the divisional hierarchy. A victory over the Team Black House fighter would make it four straight for Mousasi and make him successful in 21 of his last 23 showings.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.