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All Systems Go for Linton Vassell


Linton Vassell traveled the Bellator MMA road for over a decade, and during that time, he twice unsuccessfully challenged for the light heavyweight championship. However, a move back to heavyweight resulted in a five-fight winning streak—it included four finishes—and has him upbeat ahead of his Professional Fighters League debut.

The 40-year-old Vassell will clash with former Absolute Championship Akhmat titleholder Denis Goltsov in the PFL 1 co-main event on April 4 at the Boeing Center in San Antonio. There were bumps along the way, as losses to Ryan Bader and Phil Davis made “Big Swarm” question his status as a fighter. Something had to change.

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“Definitely, the weight cut was one of the biggest factors, and I think mentally, when you lose one [and] then you lose two, you sort of doubt yourself,” Vassell told Sherdog.com. “I was contemplating whether to retire, and then I was like, ‘Damn, I lost at heavyweight, as well. Should I retire?’”

The heavyweight loss to Valentin Moldavsky seemed like the last straw, but Bellator kept Vassell on the roster and booked him against fearsome Pride Fighting Championships veteran Sergei Kharitonov. The result altered the trajectory of his career once more.

“I’d been watching him pretty much through his Bellator career, kickboxing career and Pride,” Vassell said, “and I knew, if I take him down, I’m going to get this. I believed in myself, trained as hard as I possibly could. If I lost, then I was definitely gone. Everything came [together]. I got the win and the confidence came back, and we’re here now. It’s five wins [in a row].”

Being 40 usually signifies the twilight of an athletic career, but Vassell has replaced youthful bravado with battle-tested wisdom. These days, he takes a more measured approach, including the use of a chiropractor and a hyperbaric chamber.

“I think it’s how you look after your body,” Vassell said. “You’ve got to be smart. Back in the day, I’d overtrain, and I was always cutting weight. I’d get sick, get injured, because I’m trying to push it that extra bit more to lose that weight.”

Vassell calls the powerhouse Kill Cliff Fight Club camp home. Top talent and an all-star coaching staff—it includes Greg Jones, Sean Soriano, Henri Hooft, Jason Strout, Said Saparov and Nik Lentz—have him feeling confident ahead of his latest test. Training partners like Steve Mowry, Darion Abbey and Bailey Schoenfelder add an additional boost.

“I’ve got so many coaches out there that have been helping me and getting me ready,” Vassell said. “A big fight camp has been happening. I can’t moan. We’ve all been helping each other get ready and pushing each other.”

How does Vassell visualize his encounter with Goltsov unfolding?

“He’s a good striker, good grappler,” he said. “He’s a tough guy, but I’ll still bring my A game. I think I’m going to be the stronger guy and the better guy on the feet and grappling, as well. I see myself finishing from the ground-and-pound.”
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