Bellator 218: Linton Vassell Excited for Heavyweight Return, Possible Bader Rematch

Linton Vassell Bellataor 186
Ryan Bader vs. Linton Vassell Credit: Mike McClory/Cageside Press

Linton ‘The Swarm’ Vassell is excited to return to heavyweight, and for the possibility of a rematch with Ryan Bader. However, a protege of Fedor Emelianenko awaits at Bellator 218.

England’s Linton Vassell is back in the Bellator MMA cage this weekend. At Bellator 218 in Thackerville, OK, he’s part of the co-main event, another big fight in a career full of them. Vassell has twice fought for light heavyweight gold in Bellator. He took part in the promotion’s one-night light heavyweight grand prix. Now, he’s moving to heavyweight for the first time in nearly a decade.

It’s a decision he’d been mulling over a while, he told Cageside Press recently. What triggered it was “pretty much my last fight. Fight camp. It’s as simple as that. It got harder and harder. Not drastically, but bit by bit.” That would be the weight cut down to light heavyweight.

Coming off two losses (to champ Ryan Bader and former champ Phil Davis), it was “the perfect time, to start again. Start at heavyweight, my natural weight.” He was cutting down from over 100 kilos (a bit north of 220lbs) his last fight camp, and afterward, he made the decision to switch. After having fought at heavyweight earlier in his career, it’s a homecoming of sorts.

How grueling was the cut to 205lbs? “As I got older, [even though I] started training a bit better, it still came to that point where if I want to be a light heavyweight, I need to stay around 225. Being a big guy, it was a little bit hard.” Rather than go through that in a continual cycle, with all the associated health issues, “now it’s time. No more dieting. Just eat and train, at my natural weight.”

It’s not just dipping his toe in the pool, either. Linton Vassell intends to stay at heavyweight from this point forward. And he’s arriving in his new home with a familiar face atop the mountain: Ryan Bader, who holds both light heavyweight and heavyweight gold in Bellator.

“That’s exciting. To avenge that loss,” Vassell said. “At some point in my career I’m going to meet him again. It just worked out that way, that he won the tournament. And we’re in the same weight category again.”

First however he needs to shake off a couple of loses, including his last fight at Bellator 200 in May of last year. He learned a lot from that experience. “Phil Davis is a top, top wrestler,” Vassell explained. “I hadn’t wrestled a day in my life, coming from England. It shows that, with all that wrestling and training [that Davis had], I can still be hanging with the big boys. Even without that. I thought that I put on a good performance. I got caught in the end, it’s a combat sport, you’re going to get hit. Win or lose, it’s one of them things.”

“I took a lot away from that fight. I know exactly where I need to be,” Vassell continued, “and I feel like if I can perform like that at heavyweight, imagine what I can do without cutting weight, at my natural weight.”

Valentin Moldovsky, Vassell’s opponent, is a student of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, a finalist in the Bellator World Heavyweight Grand Prix. That’s another reason for excitement for Linton Vassell.

“Fighting Fedor’s boy, Fedor’s seen as a name in this sport,” he pointed out. “For me, it makes that fight that much more exciting, to beat one of Fedor’s proteges.” Should he defeat the student, would he be interested in taking on the master? “Right now, obviously, Valentin, but if that’s the case, I’ll take that. Easily, I’ll take that. That would be a perfect fight.”

First, however, Vassell has to contend with Moldovsky, who he described as “strong, powerful,” adding “you know he’s got good Sambo.” But having said that, Vassell intends to play spoiler. “I just feel like I’m going to spoil everything he wants to throw and do. I feel like I’m better than him in all areas.”

It will have been nearly ten months since Vassell stepped in the cage come Bellator 218, and it wasn’t the change of divisions that held him back. Instead, just plain matchmaking issues. “They booked me a fight for the Hawaii card, but for some reason they took me out and put Frank Mir in.” That was the bout against Javy Ayala, that Mir would go on to lose.

A second fight later fell through as well. “Every time they tried putting me in, it kept getting cancelled or they changed their mind.” Vassell was not dismayed, however. “Everything happens for a reason, and this is my time now. Obviously I wasn’t supposed to be fighting then, because I’m fighting now.”

That he is. Bellator 218 airs Friday, March 22, live on Paramount Network and DAZN.