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Bellator 156's John Salter wants to outsmart, wrangle a 'Bull' in Fresno this weekend

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Bellator 156: "Galvao vs. Dantas" comes to Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., this Friday night (June 17, 2016), featuring a main event rematch -- three tries in the making -- between current Bantamweight champion Marcos Galvao and former champion Eduardo Dantas.

Earlier in the evening, another former champion will be in action when "The Bull" Brandon Halsey looks to get back to his winning ways, seeking to take away the sting of a liver kick that cost him a chance to regain that title. Standing in his way, though, is former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Strikeforce fighter John Salter -- winner of three straight -- including his promotional debut at Bellator 132 against Dustin Jacoby. To date, all of his career victories are finishes -- six knockouts and five submissions.

Both were outstanding collegiate wrestlers. Halsey was a NCAA Division 1 All-American, while Salter was the 2007 NAIA national champion at 174 pounds, which should make for a close and competitive fight on Spike TV.

Salter recently spoke with about his big opportunity in Fresno, as well as the reason(s) it has been so long since we've seen him in action inside the Bellator cage.

"I had neck surgery right before that (Jacoby) fight, came back and fought, and picked up a lot of injuries (after). I really wanted to fight right away after that fight. I moved to North Carolina and went right back into training camp, trying to be ready all the time to fight. I was training three to four times a day, and I just got more and more broken down."

Eventually, Salter over-trained to the point he wasn't physically able to compete when Bellator called him for his next bout. This long period of convalescence gave him time to reconsider his approach to mixed martial arts (MMA).

"Wrestlers we always have that problem because in college wrestling, anything that's not going right your coach tells you to work harder. I think that's something I brought to MMA and it was good for me ... it made me better. But, at the same time, it led to a lot of injuries. There's days when you need to say, 'Okay I'm only going to train one time today' and that's hard for me to do."

Call it deja vu for Halsey, who also trained past the point of injury and was stripped of the title when he missed weight as a result. Salter vows his own cut for Bellator 156 will be drama-free.

"My weight's looking good. I'm sure that he's got it figured out and (Halsey's) taking care of his (weight), too, so I don't look at that being an issue."

Salter's "work smarter, not harder" philosophy has kept the injury bug away, leading to this opportunity against the former champion -- one that he's aware could put him on the path to a title shot.

"I think I'm ready for this. I like it. I think that wrestling is something he relies on a lot and what I did for a long time in my career, but I think now I don't have to rely on it as much. I can use it defensively to win a fight."

With submission wins in three out of his last five fights, Salter's improvements as a fighter are shining through, which is something he attributes to putting more emphasis on jiu-jitsu.

"I've been a black belt for almost three years. I like to compete in jiu-jitsu -- I love it. It's something that I've come a long way with. I'm comfortable anywhere -- top or bottom on the mat -- and that's something where I'm dangerous as soon as it touches the mat."

It's not hard to look at Salter's previous history and think there's one UFC fight in particular that made him realize there was room for some improvement.

"I went into UFC pretty early in my career. I thought at that time that I was good at jiu-jitsu, but now looking back I kind of laugh at myself over that because that was a long time ago and a lot of training ago. It definitely showed me especially against Dan Miller that I need to be the kind of wrestler that I am with the kind of jiu-jitsu that he has and I thought, 'When I get to that point I'll be a dangerous fighter.'"

Salter's only taken one loss since that bout with Miller, so the old adage "you learn more from a loss than a win" really does apply. He expects Halsey learned from his mistakes, too, and won't be as vulnerable to a liver kick.

"I think that it shows that he can be beat, but it's something I've got to be real careful of. It's easy for me to go, 'Oh man, okay, he won with a body kick so I'm gonna come out there and throw 10 body kicks.' I've got be real careful of that and realize that I'm a different fighter with a different style and I've got to make my own gameplan to win this fight."

The longer one talks to Salter the more clear it becomes that he's playing the human chess game in his head. He's making moves that could lead him to victory while recognizing the risks he took along the way.

"I try to come out of every win and sit down right after it and say, 'What did I do wrong, where could he have beaten me if he had seen it,' and, 'what can I do to make sure that's flawless?' I try to learn from every fight."

If Salter is looking to be "The Cerebral Assassin" of Bellator's 185-pound division, he'd better not leave any openings for Halsey to exploit this weekend ... and he doesn't plan to.

"I try to have the philosophy of 'I'm never good enough anywhere.' I've always got to be better because I know my opponents are always going to be getting better."

Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.


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