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Ronny Markes ‘ready’ for Bellator debut after sparring twice a week with ‘next champion’ Francis Ngannou

Ronny Markes trains with UFC heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou in Las Vegas.
Photo via Ronny Markes

After a trio of postponements and fight cancellations, Ronny Markes will finally make his Bellator debut on Dec. 10, taking on longtime company veteran Linton Vassell in Uncasville, Conn. In the end, Markes feels better than before for his first appearance in the circular cage at Bellator 254.

Markes was training in Brazil when he was first booked to enter the Bellator cage earlier this year, and then the COVID-19 pandemic left him stranded in his home country for a few months, unable to travel to the United States. This time, a full camp at Las Vegas’ Xtreme Couture was all he needed to shine.

“I’m ready for everything, brother,” Markes said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I’m confident on the feet, training a lot with Ray Sefo, sparring a lot with (Francis) Ngannou. You have to be alert at all times with him [laughs].”

Francis Ngannou is the No. 1 contender in the UFC heavyweight division after dispatching Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez and Curtis Blaydes in a combined time of 162 seconds over the past couple of years.

Markes and “The Predator” have been training together for the past three months in Las Vegas, grappling three times a week at Robert Drysdale’s gym and sparring every Tuesday and Thursday, “so I’m way more confident on the feet,” Markes said.

“I believe Ngannou is the next (UFC) champion,” he said. “Every day he gets… He used to make many mistakes on the ground, and it’s really hard to train with the man now. Sometimes he loses a position and comes back asking how to defend it. His wrestling is getting better every day, too. It’s hard to sweep and take him down now. I believe this man will become champion. And he’s strong as hell, man. 270 pounds and super lean and athletic, brother.”

“Sparring with him is a difficult mission because you can’t blink,” he laughed. “When he touches you, brother… I joked with him after we sparred on Thanksgiving, I came in and he defended it, and when I was coming out he threw an overhand that hit my head and, f***, I started to see lights [laughs]. It’s hard. This man’s hand is insane.”

Markes’ original opponent was Josh Barnett, but two bouts ended up cancelled at the eleventh hour. Matt Mitrione stepped in as a short-notice replacement back in March, but the whole card was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Brazilian would still be down to facing Barnett given his legendary past in the sport, but isn’t interested in facing Mitrione after his recent defeat to Tim Johnson, going winless in his past four Bellator appearances.

Vassell, a two-time light heavyweight title contender in Bellator, “is the fight that made the most sense for me,” Markes said, after “The Swarn” stopped Sergei Kharitonov to earn his first victory as a heavyweight in Bellator.

“Linton does a bit of everything,” Markes said. “He has good takedowns, tries submissions, exchanges on the feet, so he’s more complete (than Mitrione). It’s hard to say where I think this fight ends but jiu-jitsu is my background. If I have the opportunity to take him down and take it to where I feel more comfortable, I’ll definitely do that.”

“I’m not thinking about the belt right now,” he added. “I want to get there and put on a good fight with Linton. Going there and beating a top-5 will definitely put me in the mix, but I believe I need one or two more wins to start angling for a title fight.”

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