Linton Vassell watched Ryan Bader’s title-winning victory over Phil Davis at Bellator 180, and his reaction was like much of the MMA community following the forgettable light heavyweight bout.
“I wasn’t impressed,” Vassell told Sherdog.com. “They both just went in to win rounds rather than get in and actually fight and finish the fight.”
Ultimately, it was Bader who emerged with a split-decision triumph in his Bellator debut to claim his first-ever piece of championship hardware. In the initial aftermath, it appeared that Muhammed Lawal would be next in line for a 205-pound title shot.
That irked Vassell, who was coming off a three-fight winning streak that included victories over a pair of former title holders (Liam McGeary and Emanuel Newton) and a UFC veteran (Francis Carmont). Vassell isn’t exactly sure what changed, but he is much more pleased with the Scott Coker-led promotion now that he is the No. 1 contender at 205 pounds. Vassell and Bader will square off in the Bellator 186 headliner on Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center on the Penn State University Campus. The evening’s main card airs on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
“I’m so much happier. Obviously when you know you’ve done the work and you don’t get something, you’re gonna be pissed,” Vassell said. “That’s all behind me now, so I’m more than happy.”
Vassell claims that moving his training camp from England to American Top Team in Florida has played a major role in his recent success. The 34-year-old already has valuable championship experience, as he lost to Newton via fifth-round submission at Bellator 130 in October 2014.
“I’m coming into my own,” Vassell said. “Since I’ve moved here, my progression has just gone up, up and up.”
Vassell recognizes that he is the lesser-known commodity in the Bellator 186 main event. After all, Bader has accumulated victories over the likes of Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (twice), Ilir Latifi and Keith Jardine during a lengthy UFC tenure. Vassell has also seen some of the prized free agents from the more celebrated promotion struggle in the Bellator cage.
I’ve definitely noticed it….I felt like they’ve underestimated a lot of their opponents. You can see it in the fights,” he said. “A lot of them have come up short.”
Bader’s three most recent defeats, to Anthony Johnson, Glover Teixeira and Lyoto Machida, have all come via knockout or technical knockout. Vassell feels that if he can hit Bader, he can turn the tide of their fight in a hurry.
“I feel like he’s gonna come out and try to take me down, but when he actually feels the strength, feels that grip, feels the punches…He doesn’t like that,” Vassell said. “He doesn’t like getting it. Not saying anyone likes getting hit, but I feel like he just looks for a way to get out. Once you put that pressure on him, he crumbles.”