Bellator MMA has been scooping up UFC fighters left and right over the last two years, but they just pulled off their biggest roster move to date. On Monday morning, top UFC middleweight Gegard Mousasi announced that his days with the promotion are done and that he is now a member of the Viacom-owned company.
Though Bellator has scooped up a number of good names—including Rory MacDonald, Benson Henderson and Ryan Bader—Mousasi is easily their biggest get to date.
A former champion in DREAM and Strikeforce, Mousasi amassed a 9-3 record in the UFC, taking victories over the likes of Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort and Chris Weidman. He entered free agency riding a strong five-fight winning streak (four wins of which were knockouts), and he owns a legitimate claim to being the best middleweight fighter in the world.
Unfortunately, while this is a big play by Bellator, this wasn't necessarily a big surprise. Despite Mousasi's in-cage skills, UFC President Dana White was consistently dismissive of his drawing power, which seems to be the sole factor the UFC uses in contract negotiations these days. "Dan Henderson has been in the game forever," he said in April (h/t BloodyElbow.com). "Mark Hunt has an entire country behind him. When we do fights in Australia, he sells out arenas. Gegard Mousasi isn’t selling out arenas."
While Mousasi didn't necessarily sell out arenas in the UFC, the promotion never put him in a position to do so. The UFC held its first show in Mousasi's home country, the Netherlands, just last year, and Mousasi was not attached to the event.
With Bellator actively putting on more cards in Europe and the UFC dialing back its international efforts, Mousasi is a valuable commodity for the promotion. While details about his debut are not known quite yet, all signs are pointing to a middleweight title bout with Rafael Carvalho later this year.
Look for an official announcement at one of Bellator's upcoming events.