After facing a who’s who of light heavyweight talent in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Ryan Bader admittedly had to familiarize himself with the opponent for his first title defense at Bellator 186.
“Absolutely nothing,” Bader said of his prior knowledge of opponent Linton Vassell. “I knew of him because he kept on tweeting me before I even signed with Bellator, talking smack. But I hadn’t seen any of his fights or anything like that. When you get an opponent, you start watching tape on him, and then I remembered watching him against ‘King Mo’ in that tournament they had. I didn’t know really anything about him beforehand.”
While Vassell isn’t necessarily a household name in the MMA world, he is well established in Bellator and enters his matchup with Bader on a three-fight winning streak following triumphs over Liam McGeary, Emanuel Newton and Francis Carmont. Even though he didn’t know much about the man known as “The Swarm” prior to their booking at Bellator 186, Bader won’t be overlooking his adversary come fight night.
“It’s a weird thing. Any fighter will tell you too, when you have a fight, you’re concentrating on that guy,” Bader said. “You see the good in him when you’re watching tape. You actually see how dangerous he is. That’s with everybody. It used to be 10, 12, 15 years ago, you did have some gimme fights, but now is not that time. Everybody is tough. He’s earned his shot.
“I approach every fight [the same], whether it’s fighting a legend like ‘Rampage’ or Machida or fighting Linton Vassell, who I hadn’t heard of before, but at the same time he’s tough and we’ve got to put in the work.”
After a less-than-entertaining split decision victory over Phil Davis to claim light heavyweight gold in his Bellator debut, Bader is looking forward to a different stylistic matchup against Vassell. Davis, who Bader also defeated via split decision in the UFC, didn’t provide many opportunities to let loose.
“For one with Phil Davis, if you start getting crazy and start pressuring him too much, he’s gonna duck under your right hand and take you down. He’s not fun to have on top of you. You’ve got to be real patient there, pick your shots, don’t overextend,” Bader said. “Don’t get overzealous. With Linton, he’s one of those guys that’s good everywhere, but I don’t think he’s great in any particular discipline. That makes for a fun fight. There will be exchanges on the feet, there will be exchanges on the ground. I’m just looking forward to that.”
Bader is aware that he didn’t exactly make the greatest first impression in his Bellator debut. Prior to that, however, the Power MMA Team standout earned KO/TKO stoppages of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ilir Latifi in his final two UFC appearances. At this point in his career, Bader knows that not every performance is going to be a crowd pleaser.
“We’re fighting top level competition. The wrestlers are always going to get kind of a bad rap on that, too,” he said. “It’s one of those things where I’m going to go out and compete at the highest level I can. But yeah, I’d like to go out there and win the title in a devastating KO and whatnot, but if that’ll come, it’ll come in defending my title.”