England’s Linton Vassell is one of Bellator’s top Light Heavyweights and has been since his entry into the growing promotion three years ago. However, it hasn’t always been that way, far from it. In November 2009, the man nicknamed ‘The Swarm’ was a 5-3 fighter that had fought just one fight outside the UK.
It would’ve been hard for any onlookers to have predicted Vassell’s future successes at that time but as is so often the case, there was more to it than the numbers that showed on his record and Vassell “never” considered quitting.
“I couldn’t find any fights at Light Heavyweight or Heavyweight, so I was willing to take short notice fights…I was not fully prepared,” Vassell admitted. “After a hard lesson learnt me and my coach Danny Batten decided that I would stay at Light Heavyweight. This was where we thought suited me best, and we was right as we went on a nine fight winning streak”. It was that win streak that would earn Vassell a spot in the Bellator promotion too, where his winning ways would continue with three straight in his new home. The consecutive victories meant that Vassell was next booked to fight then champion Emanuel Newton for the Bellator Light Heavyweight Title.
‘The Swarm’ would dominate early too, coming incredibly close to finishing the fight with multiple submissions but Newton somehow stayed in it. As the fight progressed, Newton eventually found his rhythm and turned the tide, submitting Vassell himself in the fifth and final round. Though it was a harsh loss, Vassell had performed strongly and still looks at the loss as a blessing in disguise.
“That loss was the best thing that could’ve happened to me, this is what made me make the best decision of my life and move to Florida to train with the Blackzilians”.
One of the best gyms in the world, Vassell is surrounded by greats in the Blackzilians team and it’s only helped the contender’s skillset. “I was confident before, but to be able to train with the best fighters in the world, my game is on another level. Also now I’m working Neil Melanson on the ground and my stand up with Henri Hooft, I feel the last ten months have been the best yet”. Vassell would get a win in his first fight as part of the Blackzilians team too, responding to the loss by getting straight back into the win column with a finish over veteran Sokoudjou.
However, Vassell’s latest win streak would be short lived as he was defeated by Muhammed Lawal in the semi-finals of Bellator’s one night Light Heavyweight tournament. Only a two round fight, Vassell struggled to recover after a slow start, there simply wasn’t enough time on the clock. On the other side of the bracket, Vassell’s old foe Emanuel Newton would also lose as he was submitted by the debuting Phil Davis.
With Newton now no longer the champion, it made sense to book a rematch between the two contenders and Vassell would avenge his loss, quite comprehensively outpointing the former champion. With his only non-tournament Bellator loss avenged, Vassell had solidified his spot as one of the division’s main contenders.
Though he’s one of Bellator’s most prominent fighters at 205 and one of Britain’s most consistent at any weight, Vassell often seems to fly under the radar. In a sport filled with fighters almost playing characters to drum up anticipation and hype, Vassell is quite laid back and respectful in demeanour.
Loving The WWE
Vassell is a self-proclaimed professional wrestling fan though and I wondered if he’d ever flirted with the idea of playing a wrestling character of his own in front of the media, especially considering where the sport’s coverage seems to be headed.
“No I love wrestling but all that is fake and I’m real, so for me to start bringing the wrestling part and becoming outlandish is not my character, I do my talking in the cage on the night”. The relationship between the two forms of entertainment is always visible nonetheless and Vassell’s promotion of Bellator is often at the forefront of that.
Since Scott Coker became the company’s president, there has been a real emphasis on having a more entertainment style production and there’s even been some fights made that felt more spectacle than sport. Whilst controversial though, it’s been mostly successful and Vassell is part of the seemingly agreed consensus in his support of Coker.
“Bellator is my home and I’m really happy there, I loved the whole British Invasion card (one of Coker’s first tent-pole events), that was the greatest feeling fighting for my country. He is doing a great job since taking over and there is more to come, I’m looking forward to what he has lined up next”.
Vassell has become a regular in the promotion too, fighting for them seven times, however it’s still slightly too soon to stop and smell the roses. “It feels great to become a mainstay and fight on the main card for an international promotion, I really feel at home here,” Vassell told me before reassuring that his focus was still fully “on the future and what lies ahead”.
Linton Vassell Facing Francis Carmont
On November 19th, at Bellator 165, Vassell will take on veteran contender Francis Carmont. It will be a long time coming for ‘The Swarm’ who hasn’t fought in nine months due to an injury delaying this inevitable matchup. The fight was first booked for Bellator’s first ever UK show that took place in July but unfortunately, Vassell had to pull out due to a bad cut over his left eye.
“Words can’t describe how disappointed I was, I was only a few weeks out and I was feeling sharp and good to go”. Nonetheless, Bellator’s foray into the UK doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon so Vassell will likely get another chance to fight at home for the Viacom owned promotion.
Though he’s happy to finally return to the cage, Vassell is aware of Carmont’s ability. “Carmont is very tough and a legit fighter coming up a weight class trying to make a statement against me. I feel he has good striking and a good ground game but I feel his weakness will be me, my style will be too much for him on the night. I feel I will be too strong and my ground will be on another level”.
At the very top of one of Bellator’s most diverse and unique divisions, Vassell cites Tito Ortiz and Chael Sonnen as ideal future opponents and will likely be keeping a close eye on their upcoming January fight. For now though the focus is Carmont, “I’m looking forward to November 19th, time to make a statement”.
Images courtesy of mmafighting.com and BJPenn.com