John Salter experienced firsthand what Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Lovato Jr. is capable of. So when former champion Gegard Mousasi came after Lovato with accusations of steroid use, Salter wasn’t having any of it.
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“I’d love to say all kinds of stuff, but he’s being a baby,” Salter told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “At the end of the day, Lovato beat me because he was better in the third round than I was, and Lovato beat Mousasi because he’s better than he is.
“You can say whatever you want. You can throw around all kinds of accusations. Be a professional, stop complaining about it and go out there and fight.”
Mousasi has been known to accuse fighters who have defeated him in the past, most notably Lyoto Machida. After beating Machida in their rematch at Bellator 228, Mousasi once again hurled accusations at the man who dethroned him in June.
“That guy looked like a horse,” Mousasi said in the post-fight press conference. “You guys are reporters but you don’t even report on that. You can see a difference with a picture of him and then he looked like he’s muscular when he’s 35.
“You guys can watch, you should report that. Take a picture next to each other, it’s day and night difference. That’s not even a little bit of steroids. That’s like monkey steroids. You guys go check it out. I can post pictures for you guys if you want.”
Lovato defeated Mousasi by majority decision in a close, back-and-forth match.
“[Lovato] really showed how good he is,” Salter said. “I thought that was a great decision.”
Mousasi, on the other hand, felt the result showed something else.
“Everybody knows he was on steroids but people call me bad loser. Maybe I am a little bit but I should have beat him anyway,” Mousasi said. “My head wasn’t in it. I hurt him in the third round, I hurt him in the fourth round. I f**ked up myself so I’m blaming myself, but the juice helped him also.”
John Salter on staying a contender
Mousasi obviously wants to get his shot at getting his belt back. Salter too wants to show that he belongs in the title picture.
In order to do so, Salter has to keep beating the people put in front of him. After losing to Lovato in September of 2018, Salter bounced back with a win over Chidi Njokuani by first-round submission just two months later.
“It’s huge,” Salter said of his win. “It’s hard after a loss because it’s all you can think about. So getting back out there and getting a win, it just makes everything better. And especially being able to get a quick turnaround like that, I was real happy about it.”
Salter has been sidelined since that win last November, but it wasn’t his plan to do so.
“That wasn’t me wanting to take a year off,” Salter said. “That was just having trouble getting fights and getting something to happen. I don’t know the answer to it, but I was trying to fight. Yeah, I was trying to get a quick turnaround after that fight and it just didn’t work out.”
Salter stayed ready, jumping into a training camp right after his victory over Njokuani, but the calls didn’t come. Eventually, nearly a year later, he saw an opportunity to jump back into the cage when Costello Van Steenis called him out on social media.
“There had been a couple of things thrown around that didn’t ever seem like there was anything set in stone, and Costello made a post tagging me in it saying he wanted to fight me,” Salter said. He’s a young, hungry guy. I can respect that. And he’s a good fighter, so it seemed like a good idea.”
What’s next for John Salter?
Though he wasn’t planning on taking an extended absence from competition, Salter ultimately benefited from it.
“Several of my teammates were fighting, so I’ve probably — since that Chidi fight I’ve probably put in three training camps since then,” Salter said. “Entering into training for this fight is probably the best shape I’ve ever been in, you know, seven, eight weeks out because of that.”
Salter expects the time at the gym to make a significant difference come fight night at Bellator 233 on Nov. 8. He made the switch from running his own camps to joining Jeff Jimmo of Gym-O in North Carolina, and he also got some training in during his trip to Thailand with his wife.
And though he welcomes the arrival of a new challenge in Van Steenis, Salter still has a few names he wants to cross off of his hit list.
“I’ve already tried to fight Machida, and by the time we had any idea of what was going on with Gegard, he was already lined up to fight Machida,” Salter said. “I knew they weren’t going to give me a shot at Lovato right away, so I knew I needed to — I gotta stay busy, I want to fight as much as possible.”
Salter has also long been interested in testing himself against former Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho, who moved up to 205 pounds for his last bout — a losing effort against Vadim Nemkov.
“I’ve been trying to get that fight for years now,” Salter said. “I just don’t think it’s ever going to happen.”
He’s even interested in making the trip out to Japan for Bellator’s card at the end of the year if he can make it out of his fight with Van Steenis unscathed.
But above all else, Salter just wants to prove he still belongs among the elite.
“If I’m going to stay one of the top guys in the division, I got to keep beating people,” Salter said. “So I’m happy to take any fight that’s in front of me.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.