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) will step into the Bellator cage Friday with Linton “The Swarm” Vassell (18-5, 1 NC), winner of three straight bouts.
After making the jump to Bellator in March, the formerly top ranked UFC fighter wasted little time making an impact, accepting a rematch with his old rival “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis. Much like the last time they meant, Bader edged out a split decision, only this time he earned himself a world title in the process.
Now as Bader prepares for his first test as Bellator’s new king of 205, he faces a man who has been No. 1 contender before in Vassell. Nothing could make him more anxious to “Swarm” Bader than knowing he came so close in his last title shot but fell short.
Today Ryan Bader talks to MMA Mania on the eve of an important title defense and what it feels like to come into the night as the champion instead of the challenger.
“It feels good but at the same time it doesn’t feel any different. It’s just one of those things where I’ve always kind of taken it as cliche but you take it one fight at a time. You look at who you’ve got in front of you, you go in and game plan, and you go out and beat that guy. So if the belt’s on the line, or if it isn’t, it doesn’t really matter to me. It does feel good (though), there’s a little chip on your shoulder, you know you’ve got that belt you want to keep.”
That chip came at Phil Davis’ expense, and Bader took a moment to reflect on beating Phil Davis via split decision for a second time.
“I felt like I definitely did more damage, got a few takedowns in there, he’s just a weird guy to fight you know? And it’s one of those things where that’s for the title, that’s for a goal that I’ve had forever, and with him if you start getting reckless and making mistakes then he’s gonna win that fight. He’s gonna take you down and get position like he has in every other one of his fights. People don’t beat that guy (but) I got the job done there. It was a close fight but I ended up taking two wins away from him and the belt. I’ll move on and probably see him later down the line again.”
Since they are both fighting on the same card it may come sooner than that. Bader says he’s ready for anything if they both pick up a win on Friday.
“The card’s at Penn State, so we knew that they were going to be there. You know I know Phil, we’re friends, and it’s one of those things where we’re competitors too. We both want the same thing, we’re in the same division, it is what it is. You know I wish the best of luck to him and like I said we’ll probably see each other again because I believe he’s one of the next best guys in that division.”
Given that the only guy Davis has lost to in the last two years is Bader that may be true, but on Friday “the next best guy” is Linton Vassell. Bader seems a little skeptical about him though.
“I feel he’s kind of well rounded, he’s good everywhere. He’s beaten some decent people. You know I don’t feel he’s fought the level of competition I have. He’s kind of good everywhere, not great at one particular area, but it’s one of those fights where it’s gonna be action packed. He brings that style and I can definitely open up on him so I definitely look forward to it.”
That may be the chip on Bader’s shoulder talking, but even a decorated wrestler such as him should take note of Vassell’s improved takedown ability shown against Liam McGeary.
“Yeah you know he’s got some decent takedowns (and) he’s long. You know Liam McGeary isn’t really known at all for his takedown defense so you’ve got to take that into account there. I welcome him to try to take me down. Phil Davis couldn’t and other wrestlers couldn’t, so I hope he does.”
We’re far beyond “chips” now — that’s just plain cocky. Why shouldn’t he be though? Bader has only lost five times in almost 30 fights, but that didn’t stop him from studying up on Vassell.
“Coming into this fight we have our things that we trained a ton on. One of the things we did have to dive into is we didn’t know Linton at all as far as his fighting style or anything like that, so we had to definitely jump in to watch some more tape than usual.”
All of that scouting led Bader to one conclusion though — none of the size or reach advantages Vassell had will matter at Bryce Jordan Center.
“He went and beat one the former champions, he’s on a three fight win streak, so they put him in there you know? It doesn’t really matter to me who’s in, if it’s ‘King Mo’, Linton Vassell or whoever it is, we’ll be ready. I’m always training to be the best and to keep this belt.”
In conclusion Bader wants Vassell to bring the best that he’s got, but no matter how much he “Swarms” there’s no doubt in his mind he’ll shut Vassell down.
“He’s been talking a little smack on social media and all that, and he’s bitten off more than he can chew. I’m gonna show him what this next level is all about and (I) look forward to it.”
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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