Linton Vassell knows he isn’t getting any younger.
The Bellator heavyweight is 36-years-old with a full MMA career behind him.
But with age comes experience. And after 27 professional fights and countless hours spent in training, Vassell has his routine just about figured out.
Aside from the usual sparring rounds and technical drills, Vassell puts an added emphasis on two things: health and recovery.
He knows what he likes — acupuncture, the cryo chamber, massages and a specific routine of going from the sauna to the jacuzzi to the pool for a relaxing, icy cooldown.
By now, it’s all part of his schedule. It’s normal to him. But it’s not something that every fighter is lining up to do.
“Guys don’t do it a lot,” Vassell said to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock on the subject of recovery. “I probably do it every other day. Seriously, I do a lot. I notice a lot of people don’t.”
The added emphasis on resting and relaxing differentiates Vassell from many in his line of work, as does his eating.
In the age of meal prep services lining up to sponsor fighters and help them cut weight, Vassell is doing things the old-fashioned way.
“My mum always cooked for me, but I learned how to cook as well, so it’s always been a thing for me to cook,” Vassell said. “I always cook my own food. Now and then I will go out and get like a takeaway or something, but I’ve always cooked, and I feel like it’s worked for me … It might be boring, but at least I know what’s going in my food then as well.”
Making his own meals has helped him maintain his discipline as well.
“I’m very disciplined,” Vassell said. “If I want to eat crap, then I will, but I know I’m going to have to pay for it.”
Linton Vassell on his heavyweight debut
Vassell was able to scale his diet back a bit when he made the move from light heavyweight to heavyweight earlier this year. The change in weight classes wasn’t as simple as just not cutting weight, however.
Typically, Vassell weighed around 230 pounds before beginning his cut down to the 205-pound light heavyweight limit. For his heavyweight fight against Valentin Moldavsky — Vassell’s first heavyweight bout in nearly a decade — he “blew up to like 247.”
“Probably wasn’t the best idea,” Vassell said. “I definitely noticed it and felt the difference in the fight.”
Vassell came up short in his return to heavyweight, losing a unanimous decision for his third-straight loss.
“My last fight wasn’t my best,” he said. “I ended up getting tired in the third round. So, obviously, me and my coaches went back and we changed a few things.”
One of the main aspects of his training that changed was his cardio. Without the process of cutting weight, Vassell took the emphasis off of his cardio routine, which came back to bite him come fight time.
On top of incorporating more cardio into his routine this time around, he’s also keeping his eye on his weight.
“I’ve just sort of, um, kept that weight down a little bit more…,” Vassell said. “[I’ve] probably got a full year now staying at heavyweight. So now my body’s used to it — eating right, training right, doing the right type of training for my body. So I feel like I can go more than three rounds.”
Linton Vassell vs. Sergei Kharitonov
Only three rounds will be required when Vassell steps back into the cage in the main event of Bellator 234.
Taking 10 months away from the cage wasn’t necessarily in his plans, though.
“That’s not my choice,” Vassell said. “I haven’t taken that time off for myself or nothing. It’s just the way Bellator didn’t book me until now … I’d rather like to fight a good three times a year. I feel that that’s probably what will work with me, three times a year at least, but it’s something I have to talk about after this fight.”
Vassell will meet Sergei Kharitonov in his second fight of this year.
“No disrespect, I didn’t know who he was,” Vassell said. Not in that way. I wasn’t really a guy who used to watch all the fights back in the day, so I didn’t know him from then. I knew him from when he came to Bellator.”
Vassell got a bit more familiar with Kharitonov after his two fights with his teammate Matt Mitrione, both of which ended in interesting fashion.
The first fight was declared a no-contest after Mitrione connected with a low blow that rendered Kharitonov unable to continue just 15 seconds into the opening round, while the second saw Kharitonov finish Mitrione via TKO in round two after Mitrione couldn’t keep his mouthpiece in.
Having prepared others to compete against Kharitonov, Vassell feels like he knows the ins and outs of his opponent. But, at the end of the day, he’ll take on anyone in his quest to get a rematch with Ryan Bader — this time at heavyweight.
“Obviously, I know [Kharitonov is] a dangerous guy. But to me, I just see him as another guy in my way,” Vassell said. “We’re all human. We all get punched and kicked the same, man, so he’s another person to me.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.