Bellator 186: “Bader vs. Vassell” comes to Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa., this Friday night (Nov. 3, 2017) featuring Light Heavyweight champion Ryan “Darth” Bader (23-5) against Linton “The Swarm” Vassell (18-5, 1 NC), winner of three straight fights. For Bader this is his first title defense since beating Phil Davis earlier this year at Bellator 180. It’s no coincidence that the former champion is in action since wins by both “Mr. Wonderful” and Bader on the same night could eventually set up a trilogy fight between the two.
The good news for Davis is that he gets to take the fight on home turf since he grew up in Pennsylvania and wrestled for Penn State University, where he was a four-time All-American wrestler before graduating. The bad news is his opponent, Leo Leite, is undefeated (10-0) with six finishes (three knockouts and three submissions).
MMAmania.com recently spoke with “Mr. Wonderful” as he begins his quest to regain the Light Heavyweight title this weekend in a venue he couldn’t be more excited to fight in.
“Oh my gosh! I’ve been thinking about it and just kind of walking through my favorite experiences, and recalling what it’s like to compete in front of those fans in that atmosphere. Aww man … it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. I can’t wait, man.”
It’s certainly set to be a memorable return for Davis, one that he’s willing to admit was tailor-made to be a spotlight for Nittany Lion alums.
“I do think that it was set up so Ed Ruth and I — I don’t want to claim sole credit — for Ed Ruth and I so we could showcase on the big stage in front of our alma mater and their fans.”
How much bigger would that showcase have been though if Ryan Bader hadn’t taken the Light Heavyweight title from him at MSG back in June?
“I think, yes, coming with home with belt would have been much more satisfying, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. I’m still going to show up Friday, I’m going to kick somebody’s butt, and everybody’s going to go home happy.”
That butt belongs to Leite, the former Legacy FC Middleweight and Light Heavyweight champion, a man who thus far in his career has run through all of his opposition.
“You know (his record) … it’s solid. I like the fact that he’s undefeated and he’s got some finishing power. That means he’s going to come in and look to finish the fight. He wants to get in there and mix it up. I like the fact that he’s going to bring the fight. That’s what’s going to make this fight much different from the last fight, which was guerrilla warfare, kind of hit-and-run, hit-and-run. This one’s going to be a lot of stand and bang.”
It doesn’t sound like Davis is underestimating his opponent’s power, but he may be a little skeptical about the level of competition he faced to run up a perfect record.
“He’s definitely got some good skills, but he hasn’t faced a high (level). It’s crazy when you watch a guy go against guys that you know aren’t that good. He may very well be very good, but it’s hard to know how good a guy is until he gets with a good guy, you know what I mean? He’s been very impressive up until now, and I’m glad that he has been, because those are guys he SHOULD be beating up on you know?”
At 39 years old Leite is also making his run at a much later point in life than the typical fighter. Davis doesn’t expect his age to play a factor, though.
“I’m going to go ahead and say no, because you just never know. Could he be the next Dan Henderson (or) Randy Couture? Could be, could be. I’m not going to count the man out. I’m going to go in there and do my best to beat the hell out of this man. You just never know. You can’t use age as the thing that says a guy can’t do something — at least I certainly won’t.”
Later on in the evening, Davis will have to be on the sidelines watching Bader defend the title that was once his against Linton Vassell. How does he feel Vassell will do in the match?
“You know I think he’s going to do well. You know you hear this a lot and it’s very cliche that ‘styles make match ups’ and ‘styles make fights’ and I think their styles are going to clash. You know Ryan sometimes he’s very calculating and other times he seems to be one of those guys that just kinda doesn’t care and just goes out there and swings hard. It’s kind hard to say how it’s going to play out but I like Linton’s game.”
That could mean that Davis ends up facing Vassell for the title instead of getting a rematch in a third fight with Bader. It’s all good to him either way.
“That could happen — and I’d be alright with that!”
He’s more than alright with soaking in the friendly confines of Penn State. Knowing he’s returning home led him on a trip down memory lane.
“My team was good. My senior year, I think we started the year around like 4th (in the nation) and mid-season we had a dual meet with Oklahoma State in Stillwater. They were ranked no. 1, we were ranked no. 2, it was the biggest wrestling match going on at that time, and we beat them by a razor thin margin. To this day I have not stopped letting Daniel Cormier hear about it.”
You can rest assured he won’t let whoever emerges champ in the main event stop hearing about it either if he finishes Leo Leite, but Davis won’t make a prediction on how he gets it done.
“I try not to predict too much because here’s what happens. When you put something in your mind, for good or for bad, you limit yourself. If I say I’m going to knock him out, even if that was never my gameplan, in my head I’m looking to knock the guy out now because I told you! The truth of the matter is I’ll try my best to knock him out. If I see a takedown there, I’ll try to take him down! And if I see a submission, I will submit him.”
You’ll just have to tune in this Friday night to see which one “Mr. Wonderful” likes the best.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Bader vs. Vassell” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
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