Rivalries: Linton Vassell

By Brian Knapp Nov 10, 2021

Linton Vassell seems to have his legs under him in the Bellator MMA heavyweight division.

A longtime stalwart at 205 pounds, Vassell will look to move one step closer to contention when he confronts the once-beaten Tyrell Fortune in the Bellator 271 co-feature on Friday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. “The Swarm” enters the cage on the strength of back-to-back victories, both of them finishes. Vassell, 38, last competed at Bellator 254, where he cut down former King of the Cage champion Ronny Markes with punches in the second round of their Dec. 10 encounter.

As Vassell makes final preparations for his showdown with the favored Fortune, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped shape his career to this point:

Emanuel Newton

“The Hardcore Kid” retained the Bellator MMA light heavyweight championship, as he submitted Vassell with a rear-naked choke in the fifth round of their entertaining Bellator 130 headliner on Oct. 24, 2014 at the Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kansas. Newton slammed the door 47 seconds into Round 5. However, the champion wandered into trouble early and often. Vassell achieved full mount on multiple occasions in the first two rounds, threatening Inglewood, California, native with various submissions. A second-round kimura was particularly dangerous and nearly ended Newton’s reign at 205 pounds, but he managed to escape. Vassell’s inability to finish came back to haunt him. Newton responded with a strong third round. There, he tagged a fading Vassell with more than one overhand right, struck for a takedown and scored with ground-and-pound. The scene repeated itself in the fourth, and by the start of the fifth, the challenger had little left in the tank. Newton executed a takedown inside 15 seconds, transitioned to the back and completed the no-hooks choke. Vassell exacted a measure of revenge with a unanimous decision in their Bellator 149 rematch a little more than a year later, but by then, the light heavyweight title had passed from Newton’s grasp.

Liam McGeary

Vassell made his pitch for another title shot by submitting the former champion with an arm-triangle choke in the third round of their Bellator 179 co-main event on May 19, 2017 at Wembley Arena in London. McGeary bowed out 2:28 into Round 3 in what remains the only submission defeat on his resume. The Renzo Gracie protégé enjoyed success with kicks to the body and legs but failed to manage distance properly and was otherwise ineffective. Vassell executed multiple takedowns, advanced to full mount on more than one occasion and bottled up his fellow Brit with top control and ground-and-pound. He took down McGeary inside the first 40 seconds of the third round, climbed to full mount and framed the arm-triangle. Vassell then cleared his legs and tightened his squeeze, prompting an immediate tapout.

Ryan Bader

“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner disposed of Vassell with second-round punches to retain the Bellator MMA light heavyweight championship in the Bellator 186 headliner on Nov. 3, 2017 at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pennsylvania. The Immortal MMA rep succumbed to unanswered blows 3:58 into Round 2. Bader could not have been more dominant. The systematic champion managed to stomach a handful of leg kicks, executed a beautiful lateral drop and scored with a takedown in the first round, consolidating his efforts with positional control and ground-and-pound. Perhaps sensing the growing frustration in a wilting Vassell, he delivered two more takedowns in Round 2, where he climbed to an advantageous position, clamped down on the challenger’s wrist and pummeled him with unabated left hands until referee Keith Peterson had seen enough.

Phil Davis

The former Bellator MMA champion and longtime Ultimate Fighting Championship standout knocked out Vassell with a head kick in the third round of their Bellator 200 light heavyweight showcase on May 25, 2018 at the SSE Arena in London. Davis brought it to a shocking conclusion 65 seconds into Round 3. Vassell held his own until the fight-ending blow. Davis was content to engage the Englishman on the feet but started to incorporate takedowns in a grueling second round that left both men depleted but undeterred. No one could have foreseen the finish: Davis circled off the cage, pawed with a jab and connected with a right high kick. Vassell staggered and collapsed, eating a right hand from the crouching “Mr. Wonderful” before referee Leon Roberts could arrive on the scene. It remains the only kick-related knockout of Davis’ 30-fight career.
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