Linton Vassell once thought about quitting Bellator MMA, but he’s since moved up to heavyweight where he is feeling motivated and keen to relaunch his career ambitions as he seeks to record his 20th career victory against Ronny Markes at Bellator 254
In an uncertain and unforgiving sport rendered even more uncertain by the pandemic, you could forgive fighters for losing their fire this year and perhaps contemplating a new life beyond the cage.
But the opposite is true for British contender Linton Vassell whose flame of motivation has been reignited in 2020. With a firm commitment to heavyweight, the Milton Keynes man has a new lease of life.
The 37-year-old former UCMMA Light Heavyweight Champion is buzzing about competing live on Sky Sports on Friday morning against Brazilian Ronny Markes (19-7).
“I can’t complain. Training is on point. Training for us hasn’t stopped, so I’ve been much able to stay on that train and stay fit and healthy. You can probably tell by me grinning, I’m itching. I can’t wait,” Vassell told Sky Sports from his Florida base.
Vassell’s upbeat demeanour is all the more admirable given that he trains in the USA and has been prevented from visiting friends and family in the UK by COVID-19 restrictions.
“I was planning to go home. But with this pandemic, I didn’t want to risk it. It’s lockdown here and it’s lockdown there. I’m coming back after the fight for a couple of weeks, but it doesn’t make sense to come back for long, I’d just be staying inside,” he said with frank acceptance of the new normal.
Vassell admits his ability to maintain positivity has been helped by the fact he won his last fight. He stopped Russian Sergei Kharitonov in Israel in November 2019. But it’s the liberation of not having to cut weight that seems to have reversed his outlook, more than just the one-off euphoric jolt of a ‘W’ that took him to a 19-8 career record in MMA.
“If I was still at light heavyweight, this would probably be my last fight. But I feel good now. I feel I can go on. I feel fitter, stronger, healthier,” Vassell declared.
“I’d never lost two fights in a row. Then I lost three. I was talking to my coaches and I was saying, ‘I think I’m done’. But I fixed a few things. Worked out my weight needed to change and now I feel I can go on,” Vassell explained.
The numbers on the scale underline how unnatural and distressing making the 205-pound mark had become for Vassell.
His likely fight weight this week is more than 30 pounds (more than two stone) heavier than the limit for the division where he made his name.
“I’m waking up most days about 107 or 108 kilos (approx 236 pounds). I’ll probably go into the fight around that weight. Seriously, it’s so good not to have that worry.
“When you have to cut weight, your whole camp becomes about that. What am I weighting? What am I eating? What am I doing? You don’t enjoy it as much. I was always worried.”
The new weight has not only re-enthused ‘The Swarm’, but has also reawoken his ambition. As things stand, a title tilt at heavyweight would mean a reunion with Ryan Bader.
Vassell challenged Bader for the light heavy title in 2017, but was stopped in the second round by the American. Vassell says things would be different at heavyweight.
“Can you imagine!? I don’t want to look past Ronny. But of course, I want that rematch. Light heavyweight Linton was not ready. I feel like the heavyweight Linton is different. Let’s get this one out of the way and then we can talk Ryan Bader,” Vassell said.
Apart from weighing more, what would he do differently in a rematch? Well, for one thing, he would steer clear of wrestling.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t try and take the wrestler down… twice! I did exactly the same mistake again and he reversed me again I won’t be doing that again!”
First things first though. Vassell has to dispatch Markes, the King of the Cage Super Heavyweight Champion and jiu-jitsu black belt who’s making his Bellator bow. Vassell is confident his unorthodox physicality will see him secure a 20th career victory.
“I don’t go in planning to manhandle, the manhandling just happens! He’s a tough opponent, a good ground guy. He can bang. I’ve just got to be ready for all aspects. I really do think I’m the best athlete all around though.”
You can see Linton Vassell versus Ronny Markes at Bellator 254 live from the USA on Sky Sports Arena at 3am, on Friday, December 11.