At Bellator 186, Linton Vassell makes a 2nd attempt at winning the promotion’s Light Heavyweight Title. His opponent: UFC veteran and somewhat recent Bellator signee Ryan Bader. The event is a sizeable one, not just for the Scott Coker-led promotion but for Vassell himself. It was three years ago that ‘The Swarm’ first challenged for the belt, fighting Emanuel Newton in a quite dramatic affair. After early success, Vassell eventually succumbed to a rear naked choke in the 5th round but in hindsight, the British contender sees it as a blessing in disguise.
“That loss was the best thing that could’ve happened to me, this is what made me make the best decision of my life and move to Florida to train with the Blackzillians,” Vassell said. “That fight brought me here to the US and you can see the growth in me, look at the rematch between me and Newton, the first loss lit a fire under me and I had to fix something fast. This has motivated me even more to get that title.” That rematch victory against Newton was the first of Linton’s current three fight win streak, a run that has secured him this upcoming title shot.
Following a unanimous decision win over Francis Carmont, Vassell’s third straight victory came against former champion Liam McGeary. In an all-British clash in London, Vassell mostly dominated proceedings, especially on the ground but he also showcased his constantly improving stand-up game. “I feel like my striking is coming on leaps and bounds, always working on my hands, feet, knees and elbows. I’ve got some deadly tools I need to put to more use.” Regardless of its nature, Vassell’s win over McGeary was a spectacular one and massively elevated his already solid reputation on the world scene.
“Getting that W was so sweet because I knew Liam was the favorite coming in to the fight and a big win over him would set me up for a World Title next,” Vassell confirmed. “Liam was unbeaten for so long, he had never been finished and he was the former World Champion. This was definitely my best performance.” Following that emphatic submission win, the Englishman’s number one contender status seemed undeniable but for a moment it seemed as though he’d be sidestepped for a title defense against ‘King Mo’ instead.
“Not going to lie, I thought I was going to get pushed to the back of the line,” the contender conceded. “Plan B was a Heavyweight fight but it all got sorted and now I get my shot once again.” As he looked to officially secure the title fight, Vassell took to social media and had some fun goading Bader. A usually reserved character, Vassell has no problem embracing a slightly more theatrical approach if necessary, “for me I always show up to fight but I’m 50/50 on that one as I do love a bit of trash talking to pump it up.”
Now four years removed from his promotional debut, Vassell has become a genuine mainstay in Bellator and is more than happy for that to continue. “Bellator is my home and I’m really happy there. Scott Coker has some amazing ideas and he’s doing a great job since taking over. I would love for him to do another British Invasion card as that was the greatest feeling, fighting for my country.” Though he’s very much solidified as a top contender right now, it’s fair to say that ‘The Swarm’s position in Bellator would only improve with a win in Pennsylvania.
The champion in his way is very much a known commodity at the top level though. Bader is obviously very familiar to most MMA fans, appearing on The Ultimate Fighter 8 and winning the season a whole 9 years ago. Bader’s proven credentials aren't anything unknown to Vassell though, who acknowledges his success, “I always knew at some point we would meet. He’s a beast, but he’s just another guy in my way that I’m going to silence.” When it comes to fight night, Vassell’s prediction is a simple but bold one: “I will make him break.”