When Emanuel Newton was still Bellator MMA light heavyweight champion, Linton Vassell gave him a pretty good scare in his last successful title defense.
The two men squared off at Bellator 130, and Vassell took charge in the early going, moving to full mount several times and repeatedly threatening with submissions. A second-round kimura appeared to be particularly dire, but Newton was able to escape and eventually won the bout by tapping his foe with a rear-naked choke in the fifth stanza.
Newton and Vassell will meet again at Bellator 149 on Feb. 19 in Houston as part of the evening’s main card. The event is headlined by the third fight between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock and airs on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
While Newton gives Vassell his due, “The Hardcore Kid” also admits he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to give 100 percent that night.
“Not taking anything away from the guy, but I trained two weeks for that fight; I was smoking weed the day before I flew out,” Newton told Sherdog.com. “I’m going in there with a totally different mindset. Last year was a huge learning experience for me, and I’ve grown so much from it and I’m ready to go in there this year and have all victories. That’s been my whole career. I’ll lose a couple, and then I’ll win a bunch. That’s the frequency that I dwell on, the season that I enjoy going through for my growth.”
It was indeed a difficult 2015 for Newton, who lost the 205-pound belt to Liam McGeary in his next outing at Bellator 134 and was suspended for three months for a positive marijuana test after the bout. He returned to action as part of the four-man light heavyweight contender tournament at Bellator 142, where he was submitted by newly-signed UFC veteran Phil Davis in the opening frame.
That defeat, Newton believes, was a message sent from above.
“One thing I learned is that Phil Davis is a God-fearing man. That’s why I felt that loss had to happen that way,” Newton said. “It was God’s way of showing me that, ‘Hey, this man is all about me.’ He had bible verses across his sweatshirt. That was, I guess you could say, an omen.”
Newton has always a spiritual sort, but he admits that recent events have prompted something of a shift in philosophy. He was always a little off-the-wall in his beliefs, but now he seems to have returned to a more traditional foundation.
“I wouldn’t change anything that I went through last year because it brought me to a point where I really needed to fall on my face and go back to God in a much deeper way. I always gave God praise, but I was always on more of a spiritual awakening kind of tip,” he said. “...When it comes down to it, the foundation is God, the foundation is Jesus Christ. It was very important for me to get back to that strong base, that true base that has been around for thousands of years.... That’s where I needed to be and that’s where I’ve gone to. I’m excited to show everybody how much I’ve changed.”
To start fresh, Newton, who said he gave up marijuana before the Davis fight, will need to get through an opponent he has already defeated. He has no issues with that, especially considering the close nature of their first meeting.
“It was bound to happen,” he said. “I feel that if I would have continued winning, it probably wouldn’t have happened, but since I didn’t win the fights it makes a lot of sense for this fight to happen since it was such a good one the first time.”
Newton is confident that 2016 holds great things for him now that he has made the spiritual changes necessary for him to succeed.
“It’s just a matter of making those righteous adjustments for myself and understanding myself on a deeper level so when that time comes up again, I’m not only ready to win but I’m worthy to win,” he said. “I feel that I can beat everybody if I have everything on point spiritually, mentally and physically.”