Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight standouts Gegard Mousasi and Thales Leites will collide this Saturday afternoon (Feb. 27, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 84 inside 02 Arena in London, England.
In a shocking sequence of events, Mousasi suffered the first knockout loss of his lengthy mixed martial arts (MMA) career in his last bout. Mousasi will look to recover from that loss this weekend, as well as solidify his position as a Top 10-ranked Middleweight.
Leites is also coming off a loss, though his defeat came via a close split decision and disrupted an eight-fight win streak. Regardless, Leites now has an opportunity to earn the biggest victory of his career and jump right back into title contention.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Mark Munoz (UFC Fight Night 42), Ovince St-Preux (Strikeforce: Melendez vs Masvidal), Dan Henderson (UFC on FOX 14)
Key Losses: Ronaldo Souza (UFC Fight Night 50), Lyoto Machida (UFC Fight Night 36), Uriah Hall (UFC Fight Night 75)
Keys to Victory: Mousasi is one of the more well-rounded fighters in the sport. He's a highly skilled kickboxer, opportunistic submission grappler, and has shown in his more recent fights some very strong wrestling as well.
This combination of skills has allowed Mousasi to finish 31 of his opponents.
In this bout, Mousasi's path to victory is fairly clear. Leites is far from helpless at range, but he generally prefers to work an inside game, as Leites is most effective attacking with clinch strikes and takedowns.
Therefore, Mousasi needs to use his kickboxing experience to keep his opponent off him. In particular, Mousasi's excellent jab is well-suited to prevent his opponent from getting inside.
On the whole, this strategy isn't far off from "The Dreamcatcher's" usual plan. When he's not looking to ground out his opponent, Mousasi does a nice job working with long strikes from the outside and scoring with stinging counter shots as his foe tries to close the distance.
Key Wins: Tim Boetsch (UFC 183), Francis Carmont (UFC Fight Night 49), Tom Watson (UFC 163)
Key Losses: Michael Bisping (UFC Fight Night 72), Anderson Silva (UFC 97)
Keys to Victory: Leites has been a terrifyingly skilled Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace for a long time, but the rest of his game really developed in the last few years. Nowadays, he's a very competent wrestler as well and actually has some knockout power in his hands.
In this bout, Leites first needs to watch tape of fellow jiu-jitsu specialist "Jacare" Souza's dismantle Mousasi a few hundred times. While Leites doesn't have the raw physical tools of his fellow black belt, it's still his best strategy to defeat Mousasi.
Essentially, Leites needs to put the pressure on Mousasi immediately. When an opponent gets in his face with wide, powerful hooks -- which is now a tool in Leites' arsenal -- Mousasi tends to plant his feet and look to return hard.
That's where the takedown opens up.
Once on top, Leites still needs to be careful, as his opponent is dangerous with strikes and submissions. However, he can take another page out of Souza's book and attempt to turn his opponent's upkicks into guard passes, nullifying one of his foe's most dangerous weapons.
Bottom Line: The winner of this bout remains in the Middleweight title mix, whereas the loser will have to work his way back up.
Mousasi's entire career has been a question of living up to his full potential, and that extends to this bout as well. Mousasi simply has a ton of talent, making even his incredible success seem less than complete. If Mousasi comes up short here and puts together consecutive losses together for the first time in his career, it seems that Mousasi may never go on the title run many expected.
However, a win keeps hope alive.
Meanwhile, Leites has greatly outperformed expectations since his return to the Octagon, working his way up the ranks to become a legitimate Top 10 fighter after being cut years earlier. If he can take out Mousasi, it will be a major step forward and earn him another high-profile bout.
On the other hand, a loss does leave Leites in an unfortunate position. By losing two in a row, it requires him to once again build up another strong win streak in order to move back into the title mix, which is a difficult task in the evolving 185-pound division.
At UFC Fight Night 84, Gegard Mousasi and Thales Leites will scrap in the co-main event. Which fighter will remain standing when the dust settles?