Bellator 218: “Sanchez vs. Karakhanyan 2” takes place at WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla., this weekend (Fri., Mar. 22, 2019), featuring a main event rematch between Emmanuel Sanchez (17-4) against former foe Georgi Karakhanyan (28-8-1, 1 NC). Earlier in the night on the Paramount Network-televised (and DAZN) main card, “The Swarm” Linton Vassell (18-7, 1 NC) returns for another Bellator MMA bout, but this one is not at Light Heavyweight. On the contrary, to the surprise of many Vassell is going up to the Heavyweight class to face Valentin Moldavsky (7-1).
Although Vassell has always been an imposing figure at 6’4” with an 82-inch wingspan, that hasn’t stopped Ryan Bader and Phil Davis from dropping him in back-to-back fights. Perhaps that’s the reason for Vassell taking the risk of going up in weight?
Let’s find out as “The Swarm” recently chatted with MMAmania.com about his search for a new division to dominate after already being a two-time No. 1-ranked contender at 205 pounds.
“It’s about time, man! It’s just about time. I walk around naturally about 240, but I was always trying to get down to 225 because I was fighting Light Heavyweight. So I was always dieting even when I wasn’t fighting, just so the weight cut wasn’t as hard. After this last fight with Phil Davis, I was thinking to myself, ‘Yeah that’s enough now. I’ve had a good run at Light Heavyweight.’ And that was win or lose. It was sort of just like, ‘I don’t want to cut weight no more.’ So you know obviously it didn’t go my way (with Phil) so it sort of made sense for me. I’m gonna move up to Heavyweight now.”
So far Vassell is enjoying the change both in terms of performance and lifestyle.
“I feel good at this weight as well. Like I haven’t done anything different, you know? I just ... ate. That’s it. Just that I can eat more, that’s it.”
It wouldn’t hurt to put on a few more pounds before Moldavsky. Vassell may have size on him at 6’4” versus 6’1,” but Moldavsky — a Sambo world champion — packs muscle onto a smaller frame and uses it well. Regardless, Vassell isn’t impressed by his resume.
“Yeah, yeah, but he’s not me! It’s not like I’ve got a heavy task, he’s got a fucking heavy task. So you know basically it’s going to come down to who wants it more, and that’s me, man. I’m ready! I’m ready for this. I’ve fought some of the top boys at Light Heavyweight, that I think could have fought at Heavyweight.”
Considering his last title shot was against current dual champion Ryan Bader that’s not a hard argument to make. It could, in fact, be said all 205-pound fighters are “natural” Heavyweights.
“Bader, he’s got the Heavyweight (title) right now, so I feel like it’s perfect timing. I feel like I fight the best anyway. It doesn’t really matter that I’m fighting (Moldavsky), I feel like I’m going to fight all the Heavyweights at some point anyway. I think it’s perfect for me to fight this guy making my (Heavyweight) debut, especially just after fighting Phil Davis.”
If one follows the line of reasoning that Vassell would be a better fighter as a natural Heavyweight, it makes sense for him to eventually fight Bader again for that world title.
“Ay! I’m not in here to do a number, mate! That’s what I’m looking forward to man so, I know we’re going to meet again one day ... it’s just when.”
Vassell can’t get to Bader if he doesn’t go on a run in the Heavyweight division, though, so he can’t look past Moldavsky, who is looking for his third straight Bellator win.
“Tough guy, man! I’ve seen a few of his fights. You know he’s very very durable. I mean he’s KO’ing people, so for me, I think I’ve just got to dominate my will, my force, my power, and show him that I’m not here just to be a number for him to be 8-1. I’m here to stop him, you know what I mean? I know he’s tough, but again, I’m here to win.”
Moldavsky was a part of RIZIN from day one, so I asked Vassell if he or his team had studied any of his bouts before he came to Bellator.
“Yeah, I’ve seen some of his fights. My man is looking impressive! So again I’ve watched his fights and I thought, that was the fight I felt like I needed and wanted. You know it’s nothing I haven’t seen before, so I feel like I beat him in every area.”
“Yeah, well, okay, I’m not going to beat him in Sambo. I’m looking to beat him in MMA so, you know. It’s going to be punches, it’s going to be kicks, it’s not just going to be a Sambo match. You know what I mean? Every area mate.”
As a whole Vassell is both looking forward to this fight and excited to be part of an event led by a rematch between Emmanuel Sanchez and Georgi Karakhanyan.
“Yeah, it’s a good card to be on! You know they have made some changes. I think I was the last announcement on there as well, but I’m happy to be on there man. It’s been a while since I’ve fought and I’m ITCHING to fight. Seriously. I’m so hungry to fight. Training camp’s been going great so it’s just perfect timing.”
Hopefully for “The Swarm,” it will be the perfect time to reinvent himself in the Heavyweight division at Bellator 218.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Sanchez vs. Karakhanyan 2” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.