As Austin Vanderford prepares to face the winner of the middleweight title fight atop Bellator 264 on Friday, he can’t help but acknowledge his preference in opponent.
Reigning champion Gegard Mousasi will look to defend his belt against John Salter in the main event with Vanderford on deck as the No. 1 contender in the division.
While he will certainly be more than happy to face whoever walks away with the title, Vanderford knows that a win over a legend would carry more weight with his career as he seeks to be recognized as one of the best 185-pound fighters in the world.
Thankfully for Vanderford, his prediction in the fight coincides with his preference.
“I think Mousasi’s going to come away with it,” Vanderford told MMA Fighting. “Salter’s very tough and gritty and he’s a good grappler and what not, but I think Mousasi [wins].
“If I’m going to be honest, I hope Mousasi wins because that’s who I want to fight. I have a lot of respect for both the guys and all that but Mousasi’s a name that would mean so much to me to beat and win the belt from. He’s widely regarded as one of the best middleweights in the world right now and I believe in myself in that position, too. I think beating him would validate that. I’m excited. I think it will be a tough fight but I do think Mousasi will come away the win.”
As a former champion in both Strikeforce and DREAM as well as serving as a perennial contender during his run with the UFC, Mousasi has established himself as one of the best middleweights in the history of the sport.
Beyond that, Mousasi has also racked up notable wins against much bigger opposition while fighting at light heavyweight for much of his career and even claiming a submission victory over Mark Hunt during an openweight Grand Prix in Japan.
Now he stands as a two-time Bellator champion, which only furthers his legendary status, so it’s easy to understand why Vanderford would prefer to add Mousasi to his résumé than anybody else in his pursuit to become champion.
“When you’re going out there and you want to be the best in the world, you’ve got to beat the best, and I feel like Mousasi’s that guy,” Vanderford explained. “I feel like he could possibly be the very best middleweight in the entire world.
“For me to go out and beat him would mean so much to me. I hope he wins that fight and I think he will.”
With a perfect 11-0 record including a five-fight win streak in Bellator, Vanderford fully expects to challenge the winner of Friday’s main event. And while he prefers not to take any extra time off, he’s willing to wait for a title opportunity.
“I’ll be in attendance. I’m getting the winner of that fight,” Vanderford said. “I’m excited. Hopefully, the title fight for myself happens before the end of the year, is what we’re really shooting for.
“The plan is to have me fight the winner at the end of the year. So if I’ve got to wait a little bit, I guess that’s what we’ve got to do.”