Linton Vassell eyeing the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix

Two title fights; two defeats. On a narrow spectrum – it reads what it reads. But, to a fighter – pulling out that microscope: replaying; unraveling; studying the art; specifying those individual ‘bested areas’; evaluating ‘in play decisions’; coming to terms; acceptance. It’s all helpful processes to evolve yourself as a martial artist and to take you to that next level when the time arrives.

With both title bout losses being being just over 3 years apart. Vassell is keen to contextualise the fights against Bader and Newton and what he has learned in the intervening time period.

“The Emanuel (Newton) fight, I wasn’t ready for that level of competition – and he beat me. I went back to the gym and corrected my mistakes, then in the rematch it was a different story (Linton def: Emanuel Newton via Decision – Bellator 149); you live and you learn, and I came back and beat him in the rematch. This time around it will be no different, Ryan beat me that night and he was the better man, but I’m far from finished at Light HeavyWeight!”

“This is a minor set back, it’s because I lost that’s what has given me even more motivation to train. As a man and as a fighter that loss does not sit well with me! So whoever is next is getting fucked up.”

Linton’s response can come as no surprise – given the fact that he has dedicated so much of his life to his MMA career. Linton packed up his bags – after his first Bellator title bout loss to Emanuel Newton back in 2014 – and traveled from Milton Keynes in England to Coconut Creek Florida in America to become a member of (the now defunct) Team Blackzilians; A team stacked with World Elite Mixed Martial Artists at Linton’s structure: Light-Heavyweight & Heavyweight. Two setbacks doesn’t look enough to deter The Swarm!

With his first and most recent Bellator Light-Heavyweight title defence over Linton The Swarm Vassell, Ryan “Darth” Bader would be placed in the upcoming 2018 Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. A tournament bracket that surely must have been Linton’s slot with a victory over Bader at Bellator 186. Tournament structures in MMA; especially tournaments with opening bouts spanning over several events – alternates are needed. Can Vassell potentially secure himself a ‘back-door slot’ into the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament?

“I’ve put my name down as an alternate, so if someone happens to drop out, I’m more than happy to take that spot.”

The significance of this upcoming Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix is being somewhat understated. All former Grand Prix Champions have etched their legacy in MMA due to winning very prestigious Grand Prix’s in past MMA. The likes of: Mark Coleman, Wandelei Silva, Mirko Cro-Cop, Fedor Emilianenko, Shogun Rua & Daniel Cormier. When their career’s are long over – their accomplishment will resonate in history.

Bellator have held numerous tournaments in the Bjorn Rebney era of the promotion. Bellator’s structure/format was tournament based in its early existence. So what makes this Bellator tournament so different – to rank with such tournaments as Pride and Strikeforce. Well, it’s simple. It’s all about the platform; the exposure, but mainly – the participants allotted in the tournament that makes it stand out.

Ryan Bader (24-5)
Fedor Emelianenko (36-5-0-1NC)
Quinton ‘RAMPAGE’ Jackson (37-12)
‘King Mo’ Lawal (21-6-0-1NC)
Frank Mir (18-11)
Matt Mitrione (12-5)
Roy Nelson (23-14)
Chael Sonnen (30-15-1)

A mouthwatering list of former champions or tournament victors themselves. The weakest record on that list is Frank Mir at: 18 wins – 11 losses. All but two of those 29 Frank Mir bouts have been held under the UFC banner. Frank has fought the very best and evolved/adapted his game against the very best the MMA world has had to offer for 15 years! At the most integral span of evolution for MMA. That is a lot of evolution/adjustment required by Frank. Picking up two UFC Heavyweight titles in the process, and being involved in five UFC Heavyweight title bouts over the course of those 15 years – Frank brings the credentials/desires this tournament requires.

A surprising entry to the tournament bracket is that of Chael P. Sonnen. Not surprising because of his attributes, more a surprise because of his frame/structure. A fighter who is most acknowledged for competing at a high level as a Middleweight competitor, Chael Sonnen is bringing an ‘old school mindset’ to this Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. But what does a young and hungry lion like Linton Vassell, a natural LHW, with a frame to compete at Heavyweight think of Sonnen’s inclusion; does Linton regard Chael as a Heavyweight competitor?

“Nope, he is there for the rating. No disrespect, but he is a Middleweight.”

There could be structured debates to title most of the Grand Prix competitors: ‘Legends’. I doubt the word ‘unjust’ would be placed as defence against such claims. With one inclusion on the list of the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament bracket – we look at the name and think ‘Legend’ right away. That man is: Fedor Emelianenko.

Perceived as unconquerable. In parts that was due to his 10 year unbeaten streak (excluding his unfortunate ‘cut loss’ to ‘T.K’, a loss which he violently corrected). Also, claiming the 2004 Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix Belt. Capturing and holding the Pride Heavyweight title for three-and-a-half-years, until the UFC retired the Pride Heavyweight title crowning Fedor ‘The Last Emperor’.

Fedor’s written accomplishments already crown him a legend. But it was Fedor’s fighting style and his ability to overcome every different obstacle (size/style) placed in his path in the ring that made him such a desirable fan favourite. Over a decade has passed since Fedor’s dominance; leaving him maybe no longer a fan favourite. There wasn’t even a Bellator when Fedor was the unstoppable force that he was. We’ve seen a new wave of fighters; a new breed of fighters hatch and grow since then. Two such names: Ryan Bader; Linton Vassell would only dream of capturing UCMMA and TUF accolades at that time. Now both are a-top of the Bellator Mountain; right along side the Last Emporer, with a reality of facing this one-time unconquerable force. Linton ponders such opportunity.

“Definitely, he is a huge name, and with a win over a legend would set me up. And what a pay day that would be.”

One foot in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix? A letter of his name carved along-side the legends of MMA? Not just yet for either, but the intent is certainly there from Vassell. The early months of 2018 should paint a clearer picture of Linton’s future. There’s been reports surfacing of a feud igniting over social media with former Bellator Light-Heavyweight Champion – Liam McGeary. Linton and Liam already squared off in the Bellator cage back in May, 2017, with Linton picking up the 3rd round submission victory. There’s certainly options for Bellator in regards to Linton Vassell. Early 2018 should give us that deciding selection for Linton Vassell’s next step.

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