Bellator MMA middleweight Austin Vanderford is looking at a career first at Bellator 284 this Friday.
Vanderford (11-1), who faces Aaron Jeffery (stepping in for Anthony Adams) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will be attempting to rebound from a loss for the first time in his career.
The American Top Team fighter fell to Gegard Mousasi last time out, a fight that ended almost as quickly as it began. After falling off the proverbial horse, Vanderford told Cageside Press in an exclusive interview recently that he was excited to get right back to work.
“We finished out the trip in Ireland and then we got home and I got right back to work immediately. I had like a week or 10 days off, and then right back at it,” Vanderford stated.
In a sport where “you win or you learn” is one of the underlying mottos, the middleweight was able to take away a lesson or two despite the quick end to his fight with Mousasi.
“I understand and value the lessons that are learned. I don’t even believe, I know for a fact that this is going to make me a better fighter, and make me more dangerous down the road,” he explained. “Going forward, it’s my own mistakes that will be my demise.”
In terms of the mistakes he identified in that February defeat, Vanderford explained that “I went into it confident. Actually my teammate Johnny Eblen executed the game plan and was able to get the win [at Bellator 282 in June], and that’s exactly what I had pictured myself doing as well. And unfortunately, I was just too eager right away. Got stunned a little bit, and took a bad shot and unfortunately had a little bit of an injury in there, and that was kind of all she wrote.”
Vanderford feels he may have been a little overeager in the fight. “I just think being a little bit too eager, too fast, instead of feeling it out a little bit and kind of getting into my groove and what not. In the past, I’ve had fights where I’ve gone in and I’ve felt like a bulldozer right away, but unfortunately when you’re fighting someone like Gegard Mousasi, you’ve got to be a little bit more calculated, and unfortunately I made that mistake.”
The good news is, it’s a mistake that can be fixed, noted Vanderford, and he plans on showing that at Bellator 284. He agreed that at least subconsciously, he may have let magnitude of the fight, against a legend in Mousasi, get to him. “I think part of it too, I let the moment get to me more than it should have, and that’s another thing we addressed, and I addressed within myself,” Vanderford revealed. “At the end of the day, I’m a man of faith and I don’t believe it was my time to be champion yet. But I know for a fact that my time will come. It is coming.”
When Vanderford’s initial match-up with Anthony Adams was announced, there was considerable blowback from the usual corners of the internet, complaining Adams, ranked #9, was too far down the ladder.
“Honestly I asked for everyone after John Salter [ranked #4],” Vanderford revealed. “I asked for Vladimir Tokov. And this is what they came at me with. I was trying to get whatever fight, and any ranked guy, honestly. It did not matter to me.”
With Adams out and the unranked Jeffery in, it matters even less in the end. Besides which, “the ranking system can be sort of fickle and funny sometimes; guys want to protect their ranking and do all that. I really don’t care.”
Complicating matters is that two of Austin Vanderford’s teammates at American Top Team loom large in the division. Those would be Dalton Rosta, and current middleweight champ Eblen. Both have stated they want to avoid fighting their teammates unless it’s for a title.
“I think we’re all in agreement on where we’re going to fight each other— it’s going to be for the belt, for the title,” Vanderford confirmed. “All three of us train together quite often and work out together. And to be honest, not that I’m looking to fight those guys, but I’ll be happy to fight them because that means we’re all doing something right, and we’re all winning and making money and stuff, and that’s what I think it’s all about.”
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There’s another fight Vanderford is connected to coming up — the BKFC event in London, England later this month will feature his wife, Paige VanZant. The proximity of the two fights, being just a week apart, worked out better than you might expect.
“It’s actually worked out really smooth as far as that goes. We’re both in fight camp, we’re both getting mentally prepared and doing the little things to get ready and go have a fist fight,” Vanderford stated. “It works out good, I think we take off the next morning for her fight, to fly to London. It’ll be a little bit of a unique experience for us, we haven’t had fights this close before but I’m happy that it worked out this way, honestly. I think fighting back-to-back like this makes it kind of easy.”
Vanderford has also been alongside Paige for much of her budding pro wrestling career. The talented VanZant is signed with AEW (All Elite Wrestling), the first real competition the WWE has seen in decades.
“The experience is a lot of fun, it’s a really cool, cool sport. I grew up being a wrestling fan and watching a lot of pro wrestling, so it’s kind of a dream come true to meet guys that you looked up to growing up and all that,” Vanderford said of his experience inside the squared circle, next to VanZant and a handful of other ATT fighters serving as guest stars. “But as far as pro wrestling for me, I’m 100% committed to my MMA career, and I just don’t see that changing anything soon.”
That doesn’t mean you won’t see him at all. Just not full time any time in the near future. “I do enjoy going on the trips every once in a while with Paige, and making little cameos and maybe taking a bump or two, but as far as wrestling or having a match, I don’t really foresee anything any time soon.”
Bellator 284 goes down this Friday, August 12, 2022 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Austin Vanderford faces Aaron Jeffery on the main card.