Bellator 234’s Linton Vassell: “Anyone Can Beat Anyone. It’s Who Shows Up on That Day”

Linton Vassell Bellator MMA
Linton Vassell Credit: Bellator MMA

Bellator 234 headliner Linton Vassell talks reptiles, life lessons and fighting Sergei Kharitonov this week.

Linton Vassell learned some valuable lessons from his heavyweight debut in Bellator MMA last time out. The longtime Bellator fighter is currently in Israel ahead of Bellator 234, where he’s one half of main event against Sergei Kharitonov.

A light heavyweight title challenger, Vassell made the move up to heavyweight in March, against Valentin Moldavsky. After some early success in the fight, he’d end up losing a unanimous decision.

“There were a few things that I did wrong, that I obviously went back and corrected,” Vassell told Cageside Press Tuesday, just days out from his return. “I’ve watched the fight over again a few times, gone back to my coaches. I’ve changed a lot of things up in my game. I took a lot away from that fight.”

Vassell looked to have won the first round, but things went downhill from there. It wasn’t a question of an adrenaline dump, however. Giving opponent Moldavsky his due, he pointed out “the guy’s a sambo champion, he knows what he’s doing as well.”

Moldavsky, he said, “got a few reversals on me at the end of the second round, and again in the third and was able to keep me there.” For his own part, added Vassell, “I wasn’t able to capitalize and stop him from doing [that].”

There were other factors as well. In the fight with Moldovsky, Vassell hit the scales at 247lbs. Actually heavier than his opponent. “I’ve never weighed in at 247 in my life,” ‘The Swarm’ revealed. “I thought if I’m the bigger guy, it’ll be easier for me. Obviously that was a big part in that fight. When I usually fight light heavyweight, I’m about 235. So I came in at 247. I’d never obviously had that weight.”

With some time to figure out his optimal weight, Vassell intends to come in lighter at Bellator 234. “I’m not going to come in at 247, I’m going to come in more like 242.”

“Now I’ve had time to actually work with that weight, and learn how my body’s going to react,” he continued. “I was still trying to fight like a light heavyweight, [only] you’ve got a backpack on with extra pounds or kilos in there.  You’re not going to move like you used to, and if you are, you’re going to get a bit more tired.”

Only dead fish go with the flow

Vassell has a number of inspirational, motivational, or just plain thought provoking quotes posted on his social media. The latest opens with the line “only dead fish go with the flow.” It’s an simple enough concept, but a premise Vassell tries to follow.

If you fall down “once or twice, whatever,” Vassell said of his philosophy. “You shouldn’t follow people. You should have your own mind. Do you, what works for you. Something works for me, it might not work for you. Or vice versa.”

Reptile Man

Training in Florida with Hard Knocks 365, Vassell, originally from Milton Keynes, England, is known as ‘The Swarm.’ At some point, maybe a more suitable name would involve his more scaly, slithery pets. If you comb through Vassell’s Instagram posts, you’ll find a number dedicated to another of his loves: reptiles.

“I have two snakes and two geckos,” he told us. “I just like the way they move, the way they look.”

As to how he wound up with this small army of reptilian friends, “I just feel like they’re cool, reptiles. A friend had one, and that’s what drew me to it. I looked after his reptiles for about two months. After that, after holding it, I was like ‘I think I might get one.'”

“I moved to Florida, went to a reptile shop, bought one [snake], then bought two, then bought two crested geckos as well,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to stop there though. We’ll see.”

Vassell has ball pythons, and believe it or not, they can be affectionate. “They are! They’re not what people think. People think like ‘they’re scary, they’re slimy.'” That’s just not the case. Believe it or not, “they’ll curl up and chill. My snakes will sit in my lap for ages.”

“They are affectionate, reptiles. It’s not what people think, ‘aww they’re scrary, they’re going to bite me or try and strangle you.'” In Vassell’s line of work, he probably has to worry more about being strangled in the cage by an opponent than by a snake.

Sergei Kharitonov

Vassell’s opponent at Bellator 234, Sergei Kharitonov, is known more for his power than his chokes, though he does hold a number of submissions. But Vassell is confident that the fight will go his way.

“I’m going to finish him,” Vassell predicted. “I see some holes in his game, and I’m going to exploit them. I feel like I’m going to be the stronger, the faster of the two. I’ve got a great ground game, obviously I’m going to initiate that. My striking holds up with his as well. I’m going to bring the fight. It’s going to be exciting.”

Before you discount his chances, remember that Javy Ayala shocked Kharitonov in the Russian’s debut with Bellator, knocking the PRIDE veteran out.

“Crazy enough, that’s the first fight I actually saw of him,” Vassell admitted. He’s not worried about name value or anything else heading into the Bellator 234 main event.

“It’s MMA, anything can happen. It’s a fist fight,” he remarked. “Not ‘he’s got a big name’ or ‘he’s got this record.’ They’re numbers and names, that’s all it is. It’s who shows up on the day. Anyone can beat anyone. It’s who shows up on that day, who trained the hardest, who wants it more.”

Bellator 234 airs Friday on Paramount Network in North America.