Returning to the Bellator cage for the first time in over a year at Bellator 254, former light heavyweight title challenger and now heavyweight contender Linton Vassell (20-8, 1NC) feels like he’s finally settled in inside the promotion’s heaviest division.
“Yeah, I really do. I felt like the first fight, I just came in too heavy, thinking ‘the heavier you are, the better you are,'” Vassell admitted, speaking to Cageside Press during the Bellator 254 media day on Tuesday. “That’s not the case, because if you’ve never fought at that weight and you just go into the fight like that, it’s just totally different. You’ve got the think of the lights, the cameras, the adrenaline rush, the person trying to punch and kick you, trying to move.”
In the end, despite competing at heavyweight prior to his Bellator career, he lost his return to the weight class against Valentin Moldavsky in March 2019. “I feel like the extra pounds that I had on definitely played a factor,” Vassell stated.
Following that loss to Moldavsky, Vassell and his coaches settled on having the fighter come in a little lighter moving forward. “I walk around at about 240 anyway, so why not stay at that weight? There’s no need to add on extra weight. I really feel like my performance [against Sergei Kharitonov] showed everyone that I’m here to stay. I’m going to prove that that wasn’t a fluke.”
The Kharitonov fight was a much better showing for Vassell. One that ended in a second-round TKO via ground n’ pound. Brazil’s Ronny Markes, mind you, is a different beast on the ground. One that Vassell will have to overcome this Thursday at Bellator 254.
“I’m not bothered about the ground game. I’ve fought black belts before, I’ve trained with black belts,” Vassell responded to the mention of Markes’ prowess on the mat. “I’m a grappler myself. If it goes to the ground, I’m more than happy to show him that I’m the better grappler on the ground as well as the better striker on the feet.”
One X-factor come Thursday night could be the empty arena. Earlier during media day, Markes suggested that he’d miss the fans. Neither fighter has competed during the pandemic, so the empty arena experience will be new to both. Vassell is a bit on the fence about it.
“It is nice to have people chanting your name, but also, I feel like when you do fight, you sort of zone out anyway. The coaches are shouting your name, you do hear certain words, you’re not on your own, but you end up sort of having tunnel vision,” said Vassell, who referred to it as being on “auto-pilot.” So while he’s going to miss the fans, “I feel like it’s not really going to change that much. But again, we’ll see.”
Watch the full Bellator 254 virtual media day press scrum with Linton Vassell above. Bellator 254 goes down this Thursday, December 10 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The main card airs live on CBS Sports Network following prelims that can be found on Cageside Press.