Just his luck, Bader happens to hold the title in the division that Vassell will be making his debut in Friday. “The Swarm” competes at heavyweight inside the Bellator cage for the first time when he meets Valentin Moldavsky in the co-main event of Bellator 218 at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma.
Vassell and Bader have crossed paths before. Back in November 2017, Vassell challenged Bader for the light heavyweight title, losing by second-round TKO. Since then, Vassell suffered another knockout loss, this time to Phil Davis, putting him on the first losing streak of his 10-year career. Bader, on the other hand, won a second championship by conquering the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix.
Now Vassell finds himself in the same orbit as Bader again and he’s confident that if he gets back to his winning ways, he will get another shot at him.
“I beat the people they put in front of me, there shouldn’t be a reason why I can’t fight Ryan Bader for a rematch,” Vassell recently told MMA Fighting.
Before being booked to fight Bader, Vassell says he was offered a spot in the heavyweight grand prix. That made their previous encounter a qualification match of sorts, though Vassell thought there was a chance he might still be selected for the tournament field even in defeat.
As it is, he’s grateful to be making the move to heavyweight regardless of the circumstances. He described his last weight cut as “horrible” and said that after walking around at 225 pounds during his light heavyweight days, he is now closer to 250 without having to worry about constant dieting.
Vassell, 35, was excited when he heard about the Moldavsky matchup. He’s never fought a sambo specialist before, but his experience with strong grapplers and the fact that Moldavsky is not one of the larger heavyweights on the roster has Vassell feeling comfortable with the transition between classes.
“I just watched a few of his fights and I thought it was the perfect matchup,” Vassell said. “He was pretty game and he wanted to fight me as well, so it was pretty much as simple as that. From the fights I’ve seen, he’s tough. He’s no walkover, heavy hitter. Good grappler, strong. I feel like it’s perfect for me to make my heavyweight debut.”
Along with Bader, Vassell is also interested in someday avenging losses to Davis and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. However, he’s waiting for those names to come up to heavyweight first. His 205-pound days are over.
Besides, after fighting the best light heavyweights that Bellator had to offer, there are fresh marquee matchups waiting for him in what he expects to be his permanent home from now on.
“I’d love to fight them both, Chael (Sonnen) and Fedor (Emelianenko),” Vassell said when those names were mentioned to him. “That would be awesome. I’m here to fight, so them two names would be perfect. They’re both big names.”
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