Bellator 186 ‘Bader vs Vassell’ takes place Nov. 3, 2017 at Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Penn. Today MMA Mania talks to Zach Freeman about following up on his stunning MSG win in June in a fight with Saad Awad.

Bellator 186 “Bader vs. Vassell” comes to Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Penn. on Nov. 3, 2017. Light Heavyweight champion Ryan “Darth” Bader (23-5) makes his first title defense since beating Phil Davis at MSG in June against Linton “The Swarm” Vassell (18-5, 1 NC) Friday night.

Bader’s victory over Davis might have been predicted by some given their past history, but Zach Freeman’s win over Aaron Pico was very unexpected. Pico was hailed as “MMA’s greatest prospect” when he inked a contract, but it was “The Altar Boy” Freeman who notched his first Bellator win in June in 24 seconds, leaving Pico to start all over again.

Meanwhile Freeman’s stunning upset victory improved his pro record to 9-2 and earned him a return fight in Bellator. His reward is a Lightweight fight with Saad Awad, fresh off a win at Bellator 178, once known for being the only man to ever knock out “Ill” Will Brooks.

Today MMA Mania talks to Zach Freeman about his upcoming fight with Awad as well as what he accomplished in June in a bout nobody was picking him to win.

“Everybody was (favoring Pico) except people who knew me close, so I did get very excited (by the win). There’s a certain picture that kind of captured my raw emotion, and that’s just all the hard work that goes into getting to this point, and all the doubters — all those things can even make you question yourself. But at the end of the day I put in the hard work, I believe in myself, and it felt great.”

For Freeman HOW he got the win was almost as satisfying as the win itself.

“The biggest win for me was to do it in the fashion that I did it. If you asked me, I pretty much TKO’d him, submitted him, AND choked him unconscious. I kind of did all three so, to do that all in 24 seconds, I want to say I have the fastest submission record at Madison Square Garden now. It’s hard to beat that so it was a great feeling.”

MSG aside it was the fourth fastest submission in Bellator history and also Freeman’s sixth submission victory. Freeman was fighting long before he got into MMA though.

“In high school I ran into a pretty serious leg break my senior year, the summer in between junior and senior year. Unfortunately when that happened I had to get surgery on my leg and I had a plate and some screws put in my leg. In doing the surgery I came down with an infection and it took seven surgeries to figure out that I was misdiagnosed, the culture of the infection was misdiagnosed.”

It took a change of hospitals and almost a half dozen more surgeries to save his leg, at which point he had missed his entire senior year of wrestling, leaving him a competitive itch to scratch.

“I had a void in my life. I believe life is about fulfillment, personal fulfillment. Each of us have different things that will fulfill us, and mine was competition. What made me happy was being able to wrestle or compete one on one with someone. I started exploring my options of what I could do and I ran into jiu-jtsu, (which) in turn got me involved with boxing, (which) in turn got me involved with mixed martial arts. The rest is history from there.”

Now Freeman has a chance to make more history at Bellator 186 against Saad Awad, who coincidentally also had a broken bone repaired with a steel plate in his hand.

“Much respect (to Awad). I don’t think you’re going to see us get in each other’s face and build the hype up. It’s just not either of us. I think we’re both respectful fighters. I think we both have families and fans that expect more humility than the Conor McGregor (style) aggression and crap talking.”

The respect for Awad also extends to his track record of 29 fights with 15 finishes (eight knockouts, seven submissions), almost three times as many as Freeman has had in his career.

“I just expect a very durable fighter in Saad. He’s much more experienced than I am, and I know that he’s very gritty and durable. So I really focused in this camp on being relaxed, breathing, and just really knowing that I’m preparing for a 15 minute fight.”

Even though Freeman clearly thinks highly of Awad, he believes that Awad could have had a tougher test in his Bellator 178 fight.

“In looking at that record from Ryan Quinn, what I noticed is that his 7-0 Bellator record didn’t include any notable wins. I’m guessing they were more undercard fights. Not to take anything away from Ryan, but I just know that they weren’t really notable names, and that’s what kind of hurt his ability to stand out with a 7-0 record. I don’t know any other Lightweights that had seven straight wins in Bellator.”

One immediately comes to mind — former No. 1 contender Dave Jansen — who ran his streak from Bellator 39 to Bellator 130 before losing to “Ill” Will Brooks. Regardless “The Altar Boy” wants you to know his nickname has more than one meaning when you see him fight on Friday.

“It’s funny but at the same time if you spell it differently as in A-L-T-E-R, I represent that as well. I’m in business and I try to represent myself as a professional the best I can, and then when it comes time to go in the cage I go as an alter ego to my ‘Altar Boy’ image. Now I’m a whole different person that everyone else would have never guessed (me to be).”

At Bellator 186 he may “alter” the future of both his career and Saad Awad’s on Spike TV.

Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Bader vs. Vassell” resides here at all week long.

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