Careers in mixed martial arts have peaks and valleys, just like any other professional sport. True talents with staying power learn to evolve. Bellator MMA mainstay Linton Vassell finds himself in a position where change has become necessary to remain relevant. As such, he plans to move from 205 pounds to heavyweight.
Vassell has been a stalwart of Bellator’s light heavyweight division since the promotion signed him in August 2013. He was with the company as it changed formats and leadership, and he has been a 205-pound title contender during both the Bjorn Rebney and Scott Coker eras. However, similar to what he saw the company do a few years ago, he too finds himself in a transition to something new. In an era where so many veteran fighters — Diego Sanchez, Rashad Evans and Wanderlei Silva, to name a few — often choose to go down a division late in their careers, Vassell is making the sensible decision to move up in weight.
“I’m 35 now,” he told Sherdog.com. “I wouldn’t say the weight cut was hard, but I feel like it’s time to start a new journey.”
For a man who stands 6-foot-4 and often walks around at 235 pounds, the decision to head to heavyweight made a lot of sense. Cutting weight at the backend of a career only gets more difficult.
“I feel like it’ll work better for me,” Vassell said.
As a light heavyweight, his camps usually spanned eight weeks, in part so he could slowly work off the 30 pounds to make the 205-pound limit. Competing at heavyweight would require a six-week camp, meaning far less wear and tear on his body. Vassell’s early light heavyweight bouts raised his profile in the United Kingdom and ultimately drew Bellator’s attention.
“I found that I had more success in the light heavyweight division,” he said, “so I carried on, won a few belts in the UK and got signed by Bellator.”
However, Vassell admits his efforts to capture 205-pound gold in Bellator have run their course. Recent losses to Ryan Bader and Phil Davis affirmed that reality.
“Unfortunately, the two big losses that I just had definitely helped me make the decision,” Vassell said. “I’ve always wanted to go back to heavyweight. I used to fight heavyweight when I was first starting off.”
Vassell claims that over the years he has let Bellator officials know of his interest in returning to the heavyweight division, yet he was never given ideas for potential opponents. He thinks he will settle in at his fighting weight of 240 pounds once he returns to twice-a-day training. While bulking up does not ensure he will be able to compete with some of the promotion’s biggest heavyweights, Vassell does not sound the least bit concerned.
“I feel like I’ve got the grappling, the striking [and] the power [to compete],” he said. “I feel like I’m going to be a great addition to the heavyweight division.”
Vassell draws his confidence from the work he puts in at Hard Knocks 365 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There, he trains alongside the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Matt Mitrione, the 6-foot-11, 266-pound Stefan Struve and the 6-foot-8, 238-pound Steve Mowry. Vassell believes his grappling skills will prove vital to any success he enjoys as a heavyweight.