Bellator 234: “Kharitonov vs. Vassell” takes place tomorrow (Thurs., Nov. 14, 2019) at Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv, Israel, airing via tape delay the day after (Fri., Nov. 15, 2019) at 9 p.m. ET via Paramount Network. The Heavyweight main event will see “Paratrooper” Sergei Kharitonov (29-6, 2 NC) look to impose his will against “The Swarm” Linton Vassell (18-8, 1 NC).
Kharitonov has not lost a fight dating back to the end of March 2017, though two no contests did crop up during that eight fight span. Nevertheless, nearly 59 percent of his wins (17 of 29) come by form of knockout, and with career wins over Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski, Kharitonov can claim to be among the best Heavyweights to ever do it in mixed martial arts (MMA). Vassell can make no such claims. A two-time No. 1 contender at Light Heavyweight in Bellator, “The Swarm” decided to try his fortunes in a new weight class and instead wound up underneath Valentin Moldavsky losing a unanimous decision. At 6’4” with an 82-inch reach he’s got a natural Heavyweight’s size, but he still needs to prove it in this main event.
Vassell recently spoke with MMAmania.com about what he feels went wrong in the Moldavsky fight and what he can do to prove himself for the main event in Tel Aviv.
“I’ve gone back and looked. You know I got tired in that fight. I’ve never weighed as much as I did for that fight, going from Light Heavyweight to Heavyweight, so yeah. I went back and obviously we looked back at the fight (and) I was still trying to fight like a Light Heavyweight but obviously weighed more. So you know, I’ve gone back and changed a few things up. You live and you learn. I feel like in this sport I’d love to win every single fight but I feel like you learn more from the losses than you do the wins.”
The natural question then is whether or not Vassell has made any improvements in his cardio to ensure he doesn’t tire out against Kharitonov.
“Ah, that’s been one of them, yeah! Obviously I’ve cleaned up my striking, working on the ground work, so yeah it’s a number of things that I’ve changed up. It’s not just ‘Oh, I’ll endlessly work on the cardio.’ Cardio should be one of the things anyway, but yeah. Definitely the striking, the grappling, and just getting that mind right also.”
“Getting that mind right” is key for facing a renowned Heavyweight like Kharitonov who hasn’t lost a fight in over three years. Does the pressure of that affect Vassell at all?
“No, it doesn’t like, it’s not my first time I’ve been fighting, it’s not the first time I’ve fought someone with big names. I’ve fought some top names in there. A fight’s a fight at the end of the day. Just because he’s fought some big names, that doesn’t change nothing. He hits hard or whatever, you know what I mean? But it’s what I’m going to do to him, that’s all I’m worried about. It’s what I’m going to do to him that night you know. It’s not about what he can do, it’s what I’m going to do.”
The motivation to win certainly helps with that mental preparation. Vassell believes a win in this main event opens up huge opportunities going forward.
“Oh! Take over! Seriously! This is the next step I need. It would definitely boost me up them rankings, put me in that top five (at Heavyweight), so yeah. It would be a big big win for me.”
In fairness though could Vassell really vault ahead of the competition that quickly when this would be his first win in his after losing three straight fights?
“In a way I feel like Bellator knows what level I can be and what I’m capable of. I have fought for two world titles before so, you know, I’m a problem for everyone. I’m a problem for everyone in this Heavyweight division, so I feel like it made sense for Bellator to put me in there and give me that challenge.”
Speaking of his previous world title fights, does Vassell feel that Ryan Bader is holding up the entire Light Heavyweight division by being “champ-champ” at 205 and 265?
“Yeah. I feel like I don’t know if he ever will go back to Light Heavyweight. I’m thinking that — he may not even be going back. But yeah, I feel like he’s holding that hostage a little bit. I don’t think he’s fought Light Heavyweight in a while either.”
Here’s the irony of the whole thing in a nutshell — the last time Bader fought at 205 was his title defense against Linton Vassell at Bellator 186 in 2017. Should Bader vacate that belt?
“Yeah. You would have thought so but we’ll see what happens.”
Linton Vassell only has one regret about this main event and it’s that he doesn’t have any time for engaging in tourism while he’s in Israel.
“Oh it’s amazing (here). I’m so pleased to actually get this opportunity. Tel Aviv’s an amazing place. Wish I had a bit more time to see some more sights. I want to go to the Wailing Wall and the Dead Sea but I haven’t really got the time with the Bellator obligations, and it’s not close — it’s about an hour to two hours away.”
One last thing before we let “The Swarm” Linton Vassell go — with the concerns about cardio after the Moldavsky fight going into this one, what weight is he shooting for here?
“Yeah I’ll probably be about 244, something like that, 243, something like that, pounds.”
At 6’4” with an 82” reach, Vassell carries the weight well for his frame, but winning is the name of the game at Bellator 234 Thursday night in Tel Aviv.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of Bellator 234: “Kharitonov vs. Vassell” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
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