When it comes to tempering nerves on fight night, few fighters have ever reached the level of calm Gegard Mousasi possesses when the cage door closes.
The 29-year-old former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion is a portrait of cool in the lead-up to the fray—almost to the point where it isn't clear if his interest is entirely there or not. That said, his impressive track record tells the real story, as The Armenian Assassin has proved to be one of the most prolific finishers stalking the current landscape of mixed martial arts.
Of the 35 victories the Dutch-Iranian fighter has notched in his 11-year career, 30 of them have been finishes. And while Mousasi's striking is recognized among the best in the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, he's also shown a versatile arsenal over the past decade, as he's secured 12 out of those victories via submission. Therefore, the sleepy-eyed exterior is simply a front to something more dangerous waiting to be unleashed. Well...it is until it isn't.
When Mousasi finally made his way to the UFC in 2013, he was expected to become a contender in whichever weight class he decided to call home. After picking up a win over Ilir Latifi at 205 pounds in his official debut in Sweden, the former DREAM champion announced he would be competing as a middleweight going forward.
Nevertheless, tough losses to former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida and surging contender Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza have put him in a much different position in the bigger picture of the 185-pound fold.
Mousasi told Damon Martin from Fox Sports his most recent setback was due to exhaustion and feeling out of sorts in the lead-up to the fight, and he's fully aware he needs to turn things around in a big way in his next outing. The former Pride veteran will face MMA legend Dan Henderson at UFC on Fox 14 this Saturday night in Stockholm, and if he has any hopes of keeping a championship opportunity in his sights, Mousasi knows he must find a way to defeat Hendo in Sweden.
If he needs to shake off his signature stoic presentation and show some fire and emotion to get the job done, then so be it.
"I didn't do very well in my last fight, so I'm still very disappointed about that," Mousasi told Bleacher Report. "I've been doing this for a long time, so it's not anything new. Just like anyone else I have my worries before a fight, but for this fight, I'm going to try to keep my nerves down and plan on being very aggressive. I'm going to take the fight to him, and I believe I will show a little bit more emotion this time.
"I'm definitely going for the finish. I had a big setback in my last fight, and I want to come back and start the year with an impressive victory."
While both Mousasi and Henderson have competed for different promotional banners at the same time, it took both fighters coming to the UFC for their paths to cross. With Henderson being a pioneer and legend of the sport, Mousasi is familiar with what the Temecula-based slugger brings to the table, and he's confident he'll have the answers to Henderson's attack on fight night.
That said, Mousasi holds tremendous respect for the heavy-handed knockout artist and is looking forward to stepping into the cage with such an accomplished opponent.
"I'm definitely honored to fight him," Mousasi said. "Henderson is a legend and a really good person outside of fighting. I hope we are going to have good performances and a really good fight. I want to put on a show for the fans in Sweden.
"I thought it was possible that we may fight when we were in Strikeforce, but I never really thought about it when we were both in Pride. We were in different weight categories then, but now we are going to fight inside the Octagon of the UFC. I believe this is a good fight for both of us.
"He hasn't used his wrestling very much lately, but if he gets the chance, he will definitely try to use it in this fight I believe," he added. "I'm not thinking about that. I'm focused on what I am going to do, and my focus is on fighting my fight and getting the victory. I think he will try to use his wrestling, but I expect him to be more of a stand-up fighter in this fight."
As Mousasi will have to wait for the battle with Henderson to unfold on Saturday night, he's already taken great pride in having the chance to compete in front of a European crowd once again. Since his arrival in the UFC two years ago, Mousasi has been on the front lines of the promotion's global push and has headlined events in Sweden and Brazil, as well as being one-half of the main event in the UFC's inaugural visit to Berlin.
His bout with Henderson at UFC on Fox 14 will mark his second time fighting in the Swedish capital, and Mousasi feels that competing in Stockholm almost gives him the home-turf advantage.
"I'm happy to be back in Sweden, and I really enjoy fighting in Europe," Mousasi said. "It's a short way from my home, and a lot of my friends and family come to watch the fights. It's almost like fighting at home. I enjoy fighting in Europe—especially Sweden. I've had good results here and in Germany, so I like coming back to fight in Europe whenever I can."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.