Bellator 186 “Bader vs. Vassell” comes to Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Penn. on Nov. 3, 2017. Light Heavyweight champion Ryan “Darth” Bader (23-5) faces Linton “The Swarm” Vassell (18-5, 1 NC) Friday night, winner of three straight bouts coming into this title match.
This is not his first chance at Bellator gold. Back when he was on a nine fight win streak, Vassell faced Emanuel Newton at Bellator 130. Vassell seemed to have the “Hardcore Kid” in trouble early, but Newton outlasted his foe and retained the title with a fifth round rear naked choke.
For a while Vassell’s future seemed unclear, but starting with a Newton rematch at Bellator 149, “The Swarm” ran up a three fight win streak including a signature submission of former champ Liam McGeary that earned him this title shot.
Today MMA Mania talks to Linton Vassell on the eve of his another chance to claim the 205 lb. title in Bellator and how he plans to make the most of this second opportunity.
“This time feels so much sweeter than the first time. I feel like I didn’t really appreciate it the first time. I felt like ‘Yeah I’m fighting for a belt, I’m gonna win’ you know, and I feel like I wasn’t ready. But now I’ve been training with some of the best in the world for over two and a half years, and I definitely think you can see it in the way my performances have been.”
It would be hard to argue he’s not improved given he beat two former world champions in his last three Bellator fights.
“You know just finishing Liam (McGeary) definitely shows the level I’ve gone up, especially from the first time I fought for a title.”
Everything goes up another level for “Darth” Bader given even McGeary would admit he’s more about jiu-jitsu than wrestling, and Bader is a world class wrestler since his college days.
“The funny thing is, the way I fight doesn’t change. I fight the way I fight - it doesn’t matter who it is - that’s just the way I fight. Just because you change the name doesn’t matter to me. Obviously I’ve changed a few things, but it doesn’t actually change anything other than, you know, I have to get ready for a wrestler (rather) than a jiu-jitsu guy.”
That level of confidence may seem bold, but Vassell is the taller man on Friday (6’4” to 6’2”) with a reach advantage to boot (82” to 74”) plus a self-described unconventional fighting style.
“I either take you down, beat you up, or I beat you up standing then take you down. It’s not going to change the fight. Yes he’s a grappler, he’s a wrestler, but I feel like I stall all that. Just the way I fight is not traditional at all. My coaches are like ‘Do a double leg’ and I’ll do something else. They’re like ‘Alright that went well.’ You know so I don’t do your traditional stuff. As I say I’m pretty strong so like... it works for me if you know what I mean.”
Vassell has finished 77% of his wins (14 of 18) by knockout or submission, while only being knocked out twice and submitted once, so he’s a man who seizes opportunities when they come.
“The funny thing is sometimes I don’t even know what I’ll (do next). ‘Oh, I just took him down!’ Yeah it’s just the way I’ve always been. If I see an opening, I’m gonna go for it. And it’s not I’m just gonna go for it I’m GOING for it, so you best be ready cause I’m gonna make you pay for it. I feel like people don’t expect that and underestimate me, and when they do feel it that’s when I put that hurting on them and I finish them.”
Vassell is a little coy about his strategy but feels there are things he learned from Bader’s last fight that could give him an edge when it comes to their fight styles.
“Yeah! I won’t say, but yes, I did (see things). I also noticed that he’s not really a finisher. He likes to win on points. That’s just the way he is as a fighter. I feel like he’s willing to get in there and just ‘Okay I won that round, I won this round, I might have won that round, but you know’ and I feel like that’s just the way he fights.”
Let’s not look past the fact that Bader has won eight fights by knockout and four by submission though. He may at times win on points, but at other times, he can take your head clean off.
“I’ve seen his fights, I’ve seen some where he bangs, and I’ve seen some of his fights where obviously like which we watched (in June) against Davis. I’m ready for whatever he’s got to be honest. I’m not expecting him to just do one thing. I’m expecting to bang and (do) takedowns and pretty much do it all. But I do feel like even though he comes out to bang (at times) I still feel like he’s going to (try) to win on points. That’s the way I feel like he likes to fight.”
And just to be clear Vassell would take a win on points if it came his way, but he’d like to go out there and put on a show for the fans.
“I go to finish. I finish fights, that’s as simple as I can explain it. It’s not that I go in there and I’m like ‘Oh let me win on points’ - I go to finish. No one wants to see a five round fight, a three round fight of no finishing and no damage. If you’re inflicting damage on someone there’s no way the fight is going to go that distance. If you’re going to finish the fight there shouldn’t be no way someone can withstand your punishment and go the five rounds.”
On November 3, 2017 at Bryce Jordan Center, “The Swarm” Linton Vassell will see if Ryan Bader can withstand the punishment he brings in his quest for Bellator gold.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Bader vs. Vassell” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
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