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Emanuel Newton confident that Bellator will 'definitely surpass' the UFC

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

While the posters may bill Emanuel Newton's upcoming fight against Attila Vegh at Bellator 113 as a title unification bout, at least to Newton, the reality of the situation feels a bit different.

For one reason of another, Vegh has been mired on the sidelines since snatching Christian M'Pumbu's light heavyweight belt in early-2013. Whereas, over that same time period, Newton has effectively run roughshod over Bellator's 205-pound division, dethroning Muhammed 'King Mo' Lawal twice and seizing the promotion's interim strap.

Newton's unexpected run now culminates in a rematch with Vegh, the only man to defeat him over the past four years. Vegh's win, however, arrived via a contentious split decision in 2012's tourney semifinals, and given each fighter's recent history, Newton is confident in calling himself the true Bellator light heavyweight champion.

"I feel like I'm defending my belt more than he's defending his belt," Newton told

"I truly think I am the champion. When I tell people, I don't say, ‘hey, I'm the interim champ.' That's not because I'm lying, that's not because I'm tooting my own horn. It's because I think that I already beat Attila. I know that I'm going to beat him again."

While Newton disagrees with the outcome of his first fight against Vegh, he's willing to reconcile the setback as a blessing a disguise. Losing to Vegh in such a close fashion forced Newton to reevaluate his fighting style and training methods, and ultimately impose several tweaks which led to the most successful year of his professional career.

Of course the highlight of that year was Newton's second victory over Lawal, a five-round contest at Bellator 106 which proved not only to Newton, but to the rest of the world that his initial first-round flash knockout of Lawal was no fluke.

Five months after the fact though, Lawal still insists that he won the fight, and even asserts that Newton appeared surprised once the decision was read in his favor.

"All the cocky fighters, the Diaz's, Mo, they always think they won when they lost," Newton says simply in response.

"It wasn't so much that I was surprised. I was just happy, because I've been around before and I know that Mo is Bellator's golden boy. Bellator put a lot of money and time into him. You look at all the trailers and [marketing] on Bellator, he was all over stuff. Well, maybe not now. But that's what it was. Everybody expected Mo to be the Jon Jones of Bellator. And I completely and totally derailed that train."

With the rivalry between the two men now definitively locked in Newton's favor, "The Hardcore Kid" admits, he couldn't be happier to see that chapter of his career closed. "I don't want to give that man anything any more," Newton says of Lawal. "I get bothered enough when I have to see his face on TV, so I'm just over it."

Still, the very real possibility exists that a third meeting between Newton and Lawal could be lingering on the horizon. If Newton defeats Vegh to unify Bellator light heavyweight title, his next order of business will be to defend his belt against the man who emerges from season 10's ongoing tournament.

The two current finalists of that tournament: Rampage Jackson, and none other than ‘King Mo' Lawal.

"It's whatever," Newton says. "I don't care who it is. I'm going to come and fight. If it's Mo again, then that's fine. If it's Rampage, then that's fine. But if it does happen, me and Mo again, hopefully he humbles himself.

"Otherwise, I'm really going to hurt that man."

Either way, the fact that Newton, a 30-year-old veteran who was once a perennial underdog, is now poised to emerge as one of the leading faces of Bellator is a remarkable feat in and of itself, and a legitimate testament to Bellator's tournament format.

Newton has risen through the Bellator ranks for two years now, and he's seen firsthand the way in which the format's meritocracy has jumpstarted his career. And in that, Newton believes, he's not alone.

"I just see Bellator definitely surpassing UFC," Newton says. "It's already happening.

"[The UFC] is not very personable with the fighters. They don't really have the fans understanding what the fighters went through, understanding their camps. I think Bellator does that very well. They really follow the fighters, so it makes the fans fall in love more -- kinda like the WWE, the soap opera storyline, but this is not fake."

Newton added that while the talent level on Bellator's roster is often unfairly devalued, the opportunity Bellator presents for unknown fighters to earn significant income and make a name for themselves in the tournament, along with the major push the promotion continues to receive from Viacom, means that it's only a matter of time before the dynamics of the MMA landscape begin to shift.

"Fighters aren't coming out of the woodwork from nowhere, and all of a sudden being spectacular fighters," he says.

"You watch Bellator shows and you know there's always finishes. You watch UFC and sometimes it's just boring. Granted, the UFC can put on a lot of good fights too, but I'd much rather watch Bellator than UFC."