Bellator 179: “MacDonald vs. Semtex” takes place this Friday (May 19, 2017) at SSE Arena in London, England, featuring the promotional debut of “Red King” Rory MacDonald in a key Welterweight contest against the hard-hitting Paul “Semtex” Daley in the main event.
In addition, a former Light Heavyweight champion and former No. 1 division contender, Liam McGeary and Linton Vassell, will go toe-to-toe looking to work their way back to the top. McGeary (12-1) started down that road with a convincing victory at Bellator 173 in February, but to earn his way back to a rematch with division champion “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis, he has much tougher competition ahead at SSE Arena.
Vassell (17-5, 1 NC) was knocking on the door of becoming champion back in 2014, but “The Hardcore Kid” Emmanuel Newton slammed it shut with a submission. Two straight victories against Newton and Francis Carmont have put “The Swarm” back in the mix. MMAmania.com recently spoke with Vassell about how anxious he is to have this bout with McGeary, a fight he’s already said he’d love to have.
“Obviously, you know I’d like to take the fight today. You know training so hard and putting all the work in, so it’ll be nice to actually get it over and done with, you know? The build up and everything, it’s just like, forces you to talk about it all the time and be training for it so you know it’s just one of those things — it’s enough build up it’s like, ‘C’mon let’s do it now!’”
The pressure increased when a knee injury forced Michael Page off the card, moving Vassell and McGeary up to the co-main event slot in London. Vassell know how rough that can be.
“I’m gutted for him man like, I was injured on the last London card, so I know how he feels. I’m not too sure on how bad (the knee is), but obviously it’s bad enough not to actually compete. But, yeah, I feel for him because I know he’d want to put a performance on and actually get to fight. And obviously he’s out (the cost of) a training camp.”
Nevertheless, Vassell still has a job to do, just in a higher profile position than before, and in front of what he expects to be a very raucous crowd at SSE Arena.
“I’m expecting boos and cheers, because he’s going to have his friends and family, I’ll certainly have my friends and family supporting you know. I feel that I have a lot of support coming, so it’s going to be crazy, and now we’re getting pumped up (for the fight) because it feels like it’s coming to the end.”
It’s not so easy to get pumped up though when you’re fighting someone you consider a friend. Vassell says that’s why this fight for him is a paycheck and not a grudge match.
“It’s business man! Seriously. I’ve got nothing against Liam, he’s a good friend actually. We’ve fought on the same side for the U.K., we’ve hung out as well at events and we do speak, so he is my friend, but sorry Liam! You’re going to try to take food out of my mouth (and) I want that belt. I’ve got to finish him. I want to get paid, and I want that belt, simple.”
If he needs any additional motivation, though, earning a potential shot at the winner of Davis vs. Bader at MSG certainly keeps his focus sharp. He can already envision a post-fight scenario.
“Yes, without a doubt! (I’d have) beat a former champion, and Francis Carmont, and that’s three top names and two former champions. Bellator cannot say no to that title fight. I get this win and then we can start shouting names and calling out champions, whoever it is at the time.”
Additionally Vassell feels there are “bragging rights” on the line because the winner can consider himself the best British fighter at 205 lbs.
“Yes, without a doubt, that’s exactly what it’s like. Who’s the King of England? The two top Light Heavyweights in the U.K., so that’s exactly the way I see it.”
And if there’s still any lingering doubt about his willingness to face a man he considers a friend, “The Swarm” says this is the most important fight he’s ever had.
“He’s the former champion, and he lost to like, one of the best grapplers in MMA -- Phil Davis, great, great wrestler, no shame in that. For me he’s the former champion so for me it’s definitely the biggest fight of my career.”
The only thing left for Vassell at this point is to determine the best way to get the win. His hands can do work (six knockouts), but he’s also deadly on the ground (seven submissions).
“I’m looking to finish all of my fights. The last two didn’t go the way I wanted in finishing them. With Emanuel (Newton) — he’s tough as hell, man. I tried finishing him in the first fight, that didn’t go to plan, so the second fight was more just beating him up instead of actually going for the finish. With Carmont I was trying to finish, but he was so on the defensive side, so I didn’t get what I wanted, but I will be looking to finish Liam. If it’s a not a knockout, if it’s not a TKO, it’s going to be the ref pulling me off or submission. I’m not just looking for one thing -- I’m prepared for whatever comes.”
And fight fans can be prepared for an excellent co-main event with two of Bellator’s best at 205 come to SSE Arena in London this weekend.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded in the video player above and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here.