Considering Mousasi has five times as much experience and has participated in 11 title fights — the same number of total bouts on Vanderford’s entire professional résumé — it’s understandable why he’s a sizable underdog heading into Bellator 275 on Friday in Ireland.
Of course, none of this is news to Vanderford — and in a strange way, it actually makes him even happier that he’s going into a fight where it seems like everyone is already counting him out.
“I have respect for what he’s accomplished and all that in the sport, but I smile when I talk about it, because I know what I can do,” Vanderford told MMA Fighting. “I know what I’m capable of. I know I train with guys that are better than him. I know I’m going to outwork him in this camp, and when it comes fight night, I know I’m going to go out and show that.
“It’s fun and I’m happy to be the underdog, because I want that feeling. I want everyone to be like, ‘Paige VanZant’s husband really is f*cking bad ass.’ It pumps me up even talking about it. It makes me want to cry. I just get so emotional and so excited for it.”
Prior to his appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series and then his undefeated run in Bellator, Vanderford’s biggest claim to fame was his marriage to former UFC star Paige VanZant, who is undeniably one of the most well-known names in MMA.
Having a famous wife could easily bruise a man’s ego, but don’t ever count Vanderford among them.
In fact, Vanderford has welcomed the nickname “Mr. VanZant” because he’s the proudest husband in the world, and the quiet confidence he’s always shown in himself is how he got to this point in the first place.
“What is more alpha than going out there and getting in a fist fight for a living?” Vanderford said. “There’s not really anything anyone could say. Of course, there’s going to be those fans and there might be colleagues who talk a little sh*t, but it’s just part of the game. I’m happy to embrace it. I am my wife’s biggest fan and supporter.
“I really don’t care about the title of being Mr. VanZant. I think it’s funny. If anyone really cares that much about it, they can fight me about it.”
Vanderford can take a major step forward to securing his own legacy with the title bout against Mousasi, which comes after just five fights as part of the Bellator roster.
He actually joined the promotion after UFC president Dana White passed on signing him following a victory on The Contender Series when it seemed like he would be a natural to fight inside the octagon.
Instead, Vanderford ended up in Bellator, and while he’ll never burn bridges because there’s always a chance he could fight in the UFC one day, he couldn’t have asked for a better situation than the one he’s had for the past three years.
“I’m a religious guy, and I believe in God and I believe that things are just set up for whatever reason, and that’s just what it was,” Vanderford said. “I didn’t get signed that day because God had other plans for me. There’s no ill will. I never think back like, ‘F*ck the UFC.’ I’m just thankful for the opportunities that I have now.
“Scott Coker and Mike Kogan taking a chance with me, and I just re-signed a new deal and it’s better than I could ever imagine. Thinking back to fighting for $500 f*cking dollars. I’m about to headline a title fight in Bellator. I’m forever grateful for that opportunity.”
Details surrounding Vanderford’s new contract remain confidential, but he has no complaints about the deal he just signed, which was finalized before his fight against Mousasi was announced.
“Of course I have my wife and she’s the breadwinner, but if I didn’t have Paige, I would still be able to fight and I wouldn’t have to worry about a thing,” Vanderford said with a laugh. “Bellator makes that possible.
“I couldn’t confidently say that at this point in my career that I’d have that same deal with the UFC. I actually really don’t think I would. I’m a happy Bellator fighter.”
Vanderford will be even happier if he can dispatch Mousasi, move to 12-0 in his career, and most importantly, become the new Bellator middleweight champion.
“As funny as it sounds, going in there to fight for a title and it’s my first time fighting for a title, but I’m going to go in there and take him into my world,” Vanderford said. “I train with guys who have beat him. I train with ‘King Mo’ [Muhammad Lawal]. I’m so confident in myself going in there.”