For 16 years, Gegard Mousasi has been a relevant player on the global middleweight scene. On Friday night, Mousasi looks to once again prove there's plenty in the tank when he defends his middleweight championship against Johnny Eblen in the main event of Bellator 282. The four-fight main card goes down from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut (9 p.m. ET, Showtime).
Mousasi (49-7-2) last appeared in February when he put his title on the line against then-undefeated Austin Vanderford. Despite entering as only a minor underdog against the champion, Vanderford didn't make it to the 90-second mark of the fight before Mousasi finished him with strikes.
The performance against Vanderford was vintage Mousasi. Since bursting onto the global scene on Pride Fighting Championships' Bushido shows, Mousasi has been one of the most consistent fighters in the world. Over 58 fights, Mousasi has never lost back-to-back despite competing at a high level for such an extended period of time.
Now on a 12-1 run since 2016, a stretch that includes leaving the UFC while on a five-fight winning streak and a run of four consecutive knockouts, Mousasi has positioned himself as a worthy king of the 185-pound division.
"After this, end of the year they're going to keep me busy. I look at it fight by fight nowadays," Mousasi said at media day. "To be honest, I really don't care who's next. I think what Bellator's plan was to fight the light heavyweight champ, but I guess he has a rematch, so I don't know who they're going to give me."
Eblen (11-0) enters his title opportunity in nearly the same position as Vanderford: undefeated, confident and as a slight underdog.
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Eblen has fought his last seven fights in the Bellator cage, working his way through the competition and climbing the ladder before a decision win over John Salter finally earned him a chance to battle Mousasi for the championship.
"This was part of the plan. I've been honed in and focused on this moment, and I'm ready to execute," Eblen said at media day. "I just train to get better every day. There's no secret, there's no magic pill. I'm just gonna let it fly and have fun Friday night. It feels good. I feel like I'm at where I need to be."
Bellator 282 also features a pair of quarterfinal fights in the stacked Bantamweight World Grand Prix. Leandro Higo faces Danny Sabatello while Magomed Magomedov battles Enrique Barzola. Barzola and Sabatello both had to battle their way into the tournament via wild card bouts as injuries opened up slots in the field.
"Yeah, I'm 100% in his head. I went back and looked at his previous fights, he's never talked shit. When you fight Danny Sabatello, it's completely different," Sabatello said. "I already got him talking trash. This is not what he's used to. When he goes out there Friday night, his legs are going to be a little bit heavier and those lights are going to be a little bit brighter. I'm glad that I got him talking trash and that I'm already in his head."
The preliminary card also features the return of Cat Zingano. The featherweight returns for her third bout inside the Bellator cage when she takes on fellow veteran Pam Sorenson in a crucial bout for title contention. Zingano has scored a pair of wins in her first two appearances inside the Bellator cage since leaving UFC and continues to angle for a bout with division stalwart Cris Cyborg. Sorenson, meanwhile, just suffered a decision loss to Arlene Blencowe.
Below is the complete fight card along with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook. After that, we get to a pick and prediction for the main event.
Bellator 282 fight card, odds
Gegard Mousasi (c) -270
Johnny Eblen +220
Danny Sabatello -625
Leandro Higo +450
Bantamweight Grand Prix
Magomed Magomedov -160
Enrique Barzola +135
Bantamweght Grand Prix
Brennan Ward -260
Kassius Kayne +210
Eblen has only finished two of his seven Bellator opponents. That's a bit concerning given his level of opposition has been nowhere near that of Mousasi and the champion has four stoppage wins in his eight Bellator fights, most of which that at the championship level. Eblen is having to make a massive leap in competition for this fight and Mousasi is a brilliant fighter who takes advantage of nearly every mistake an opponent makes.
Look for Mousasi to bust Eblen up on the feet with simple striking combinations that force Eblen into desperate spots. When fighters get desperate against Mousasi, he exploits the holes that desperation creates. This should be another good night for Mousasi. Pick: Gegard Mousasi via TKO2