Linton Vassell gave Emanuel Newton all he could handle. | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
When it was announced last fall that Linton Vassell would be next to challenge reigning Bellator 205-pound king Emanuel Newton, the collective reaction from the MMA community was that of a shrug and a blank stare.
By the time Vassell’s bid for light heavyweight gold at Bellator 130 came up just short, a lot more people were probably familiar with the Englishman known as “The Swarm.” Vassell put Newton in constant peril in the bout’s first two frames, moving to full mount repeatedly and threatening with multiple submissions -- include a second-round kimura that appeared to have the champion on the verge of defeat.
Vassell would fade down the stretch, however, eventually succumbing to a rear-naked choke from “The Hardcore Kid” 47 seconds into the final stanza. Nonetheless, a message was sent that night: Vassell deserved the opportunity he was given.
“I talked to a few reporters [prior to the fight]. No one knew who I was,” Vassell told Sherdog.com. “Certain people were like, ‘Who’s Linton Vassell?’ After that fight, I was getting more recognition from losing the fight than my previous wins. I definitely made a name now so people know who I am.”
There is yet more notoriety to be gained for the 31-year-old Immortal MMA representative. At Bellator 134 "British Invasion," Vassell will lock horns with Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
While he might be far less consistent than Newton, Sokoudjou is a bigger name thanks to his improbable victories over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona in Pride Fighting Championships. Although those signature triumphs occurred in 2007, Sokoudjou is still remembered for shocking the MMA world.
Sokoudjou never again reached such lofty heights, but Vassell knows that a win over “The African Assassin” would do wonders for his career.
“Watching MMA back then I obviously saw his fights so I knew who he was. I was aware of him, but I never thought I would get the chance to actually fight him,” Vassell said. “...A win over Sokoudjou gives me a rematch [with Newton] or a No. 1 contender fight at least. He’s a name. People know who he is, and I definitely think it’s a big win under my belt.”
Vassell may have only just recently emerged on the MMA radar, but he has been building to this point for quite some time. Early in his career, he struggled to consistently find fights at light heavyweight in his home country. As a result, he took his share of short-notice fights at heavyweight to stay active.
Vassell eventually refined his approach and became more cautious about accepting fights while taking steps to improve his camps and diet. Still, things didn’t really fall into place for the Buckinghamshire, England, native until he was able to quit his bricklaying job of nearly 18 years.
Until approximately a year and a half ago, Vassell says he would wake up to a day of draining manual labor, often in cold and rainy conditions. When that was over, he would clock in again at the gym, this time for striking, grappling and wrestling training. His version of a work week was often seven days long.
“It definitely took its toll,” he said.
Signing with Bellator finally allowed Vassell to treat MMA like a full-time career. It’s one that has promise, as evidenced by his performance against Newton as well as the nine-fight winning streak that preceded it.
Eventually, Vassell would like to get another shot at Newton, who defends his belt against Liam McGeary in the Bellator 134 headliner. He does, however, expect his fellow Brit to unseat Newton on Feb. 27. Vassell and McGeary are friends, but if championship gold is on the line, the two light heavyweights are not opposed to trading blows in the cage.
In fact, they already discussed the matter before Vassell lost to Newton. Had Vassell won that night, McGeary would have been next in line by virtue of winning Bellator’s final light heavyweight tournament.
“We’ll have to talk and sort it out, when it comes to that point,” Vassell said.
If that day comes, no more introductions will be needed. Vassell will have already put in the necessary work.