Emanuel Newton is not looking past upcoming (March 28, 2013) opponent Mikhail Zayats.
But that doesn't mean he doesn't have Attila Vegh in his sights. "The Hardcore Kid" lost one of 2012's most controversial decisions to Vegh in the Bellator summer series light heavyweight tournament semifinals last July.
The loss still stings the California native to this day.
Newton proved he belongs among the elite in Bellator's 205 pound division in his last bout, scoring an extremely impressive first round knockout victory over tournament favorite Muhammed Lawal via spinning back fist to earn place in the finals.
If he can go out and take care business against Zayats in the co-main event of Bellator 94 on Thursday night in Tampa, he will get that second crack at Vegh.
Newton spoke to MMAmania.com about his win over King Mo, potentially avenging a loss with the tilte on the line and why he believes he has a better spinning backfist than upcoming opponent in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's start with your last fight. I know you've talked the King Mo fight to death, but for most people, they just remember the spinning back fist knockout but they forget you were outstriking him pretty much the entire time before that. Can you talk about the progress you've made in your stand-up skills since working with Arnold Chon and the guys at the Wildcard Gym?
Emanuel Newton: It's been night and day, night and day the difference in my striking now. I was telling people even before Arnold, I had some awkward stand-up attacks but working with him has pushed me so hard to be better. Right now, working with Arnold and believe it or not, I was only with him for two and a half weeks before the King Mo fight. Now, I've had a whole extra month to work with him, back to the gym and getting my hands even cleaner, faster and hitting harder. It's going to be an even bigger difference this time around. I am really improving so much with my hands and my kicks and he was a taekwondo world champion. To have someone with that athleticism work with me, if you watch any type of taekwondo full contact, it's all about that one-hit knockout. Expect to see some really spectacular stuff happen.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of that, your knockout was very flashy especially considering it was one of the year's biggest upsets. Do you feel any pressure to top what you did in your last fight?
Emanuel Newton: Ah man, the main thing I want to do is to just prove to everyone that I'm more than that knockout, that it wasn't just a fluke. I'm not a one-trick pony. I definitely want to show that I have the skills to do it again. I don't have a crystal ball, but I definitely feel like something amazing is going to go down on Thursday night.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This fight against Mikhail Zayats, one of the more intriguing parts about it is the fact that both you and Mikhail scored your biggest wins in this tournament after landing a spinning back fist. Now that you've had a chance to look at some of his film, who do you think has the better spinning back fist?
Emanuel Newton: Oh yeah, man. Me for sure. When Mikhail throws his spinning back fist, he throws it with reckless abandonment. When I throw my spinning back fist, it's perfectly timed, perfectly aimed and throws at an opportunistic situation. He did his against Babalu and not to say anything against Babalu, but if he and Mo were to fight, Mo would probably eat Babalu alive. I think if I were to fight Babalu, I've trained with Babalu before and I think he's a great fighter and everything but he's older now and he's had a lot of fights and he's been knocked out. Not to take anything away from Mikhail because Babalu is still an awesome fighter but I had the tougher fight and I have the better spinning back fist for sure.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned having the tougher fight with who you both upset along the way. Do you think you've had an overall more difficult road to the finals than Zayats as well?
Emanuel Newton: Yes, 100 percent. Even in our overall careers, even back before Bellator, he fought nothing but Eastern Europeans which is all strikers and some sambo guys. With me, I've trained with the best. I've lived in California my whole life. I've trained at Reign, I've trained at Black House, I've trained at King's and the who's who of MMA. I've trained with everyone and haven't had anything handed to me. There's nothing that Zayats is going to do that I haven't dealt with before so I definitely had the tougher road and a tougher career in general than him in the MMA world.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned you think you've had harder training than him, so what do you think you'll bring to the table that he hasn't seen before?
Emanuel Newton: Everything, man. I've been putting in my time with Arnold at Wildcard and I've gotten so much better. My striking and my wrestling have always been my main things and they're just getting sharper. The Russians, they don't see much freestyle wrestling over there, they haven't been a real powerhouse in wrestling since what, the 1980s? They approach everything differently than guys over here to. I think from my striking, to my wrestling to my conditioning on the ground, it's going to be a lot different than his.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In the last year Zayats switched over to the RusFighter team and they've experienced a ton of success lately. They've got Shlemenko and Volkov as champs, Koreshkov earning a title shot and Khasbulaev potentially earning one next week. What do you think it is about this team in particular that's helped them reach this type of success in Bellator?
Emanuel Newton: Well I've trained with all those guys. I'm surprised I haven't locked horns with Zayats before. I've worked with Shlemenko and all those other Russians. I saw them every day at Reign for a couple months straight but I never worked with Zayats. He's not with them really. He's not exactly with that group. He's kinda out doing his own thing with Tiki Ghosn.
Even his demeanor is way different than all the other Russians. They're a lot more hard-nosed but with him, he's always smiling a lot more. I don't know if he's from a different part of Russia or something but I've trained with all those guys and he's definitely different. I think they all pattern themselves after Shlemenko since he's their coach. They all fight the same. They come hard. They throw the spinning back fist since he's the first one who came over for Bellator. I think Zayats is better off his back than a lot of these other Russians.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you're not looking past Mikhail Zayats whatsoever, but you have some serious unfinished business with Attila Vegh. You had a very controversial decision loss to him in the semifinals of last summer's tournament. Is that something in the back of your mind because if you win this fight, you get another shot at him?
Emanuel Newton: That's all in the past but I did beat Atilla. I outstruck him 117-64. I had the only takedowns in the fight. My back was never against the cage and his back was against the cage. In the eyes of anybody, I was the winner of the fight. Yeah, we had some good exchanges but I landed more strikes, had the takedowns and had him with his back against the cage with control. Come on, man.
That being said, I truly believe that I wasn't prepared for the belt yet. God had other plans for me. He had other plans for my career. Me losing to Attila Vegh, I feel like that was a sign that I wasn't ready yet, but I would get that belt. I will get there and I will dominate him the next time I fight him because I've changed so many things up. If I had won that fight and then won the title, I'd have been doing the same exact things that I was doing before. I would never have started training with Arnold Chon, never would have found Wildcard or the great group of guys I'm with now and I would have stayed the same. I wouldn't have changed for the better.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So if you don't think you were ready then, do you feel like you're ready to become a champion now?
Emanuel Newton: Yes I do. I feel like my mind's more prepared. I feel like my mind is more humble now. I feel like now is truly my time. I'm not looking past Zayats even though it sounds like I am. I don't want to sound cocky, but I'm just confident. I see myself being the champion.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Back to Zayats, you've been training for this fight for a month now. When you think about it and picture victory, what do you see?
Emanuel Newton: I don't have a crystal ball so I can't see exactly what's gonna happen, but I can tell you that something spectacular is gonna go down on Thursday night.
Emanuel would like to thank all his buddies at Wildcard, the guys at Body Shop, Antonio McKee, Arnold Chon, his management KO Dynasty and his sponsors. You can follow him on Twitter @Emanuel_Newton.