Bellator 215: “Mitrione vs. Kharitonov” takes place at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., this Friday night (Feb. 15, 2019), airing live on Paramount Network (and DAZN). Then, one day later, Michael “Venom” Page and Paul “Semtex” Daley meet in the Welterweight Grand Prix for Bellator 216 in the very same venue.
One fight you might not have expected over this same weekend is “Mr. VanZant” in action. That may not be the way Austin Vanderford prefers to be known, but as the husband of popular Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and “Dancing With the Stars” sensation Paige VanZant, the undefeated fighter (6-0) from Portland, Ore., will get his chance to shine. It’s a bit surprising that he didn’t end up in UFC, though, given that he fought on Dana White’s “Tuesday Night Contender’s Series” and won, but instead he’ll be taking on Cody Jones (4-2) on Bellator 215’s main card.
MMAmania.com recently spoke with Vanderford about his Bellator debut and whether or not he truly is the most hated man in mixed martial arts (MMA) just because he is married to VanZant.
“What do you want me to say, man? I can’t tell these people (what to do). I’m happy to be associated with my wife and all that. We married each other for a reason. I’m probably in the top five (most hated) at least, right? It is what it is. You can’t take away my accomplishments up to this point in my career. I’m undefeated, I’m a two-time All-American national champ in college, two-time state champ in high school, and all that can speak for itself. People can pass whatever judgment and say whatever they want to say. I can’t go out there and convince someone not to call me ‘Mr. VanZant.’ There’s no point in fighting it. It is what it is … and fuck ‘em if they want to.”
In case you’re not listening to the audio that goes along with this interview, Vanderford is clearly amused by the whole thing, but his fighting career is no joke … nor was his rear-naked choke “Contender Series” victory.
“I went out and I fought a little adversity and ended up getting a second round finish. I didn’t get the call to UFC, but I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason, and now I’m on this great platform and fighting for Bellator and I could not be happier. I’m so excited to start it off. It all will feel real Friday once we go out there and I get my first fight in and all that. I’m just extremely thankful and grateful to be a part of Bellator.”
Their loss will Paramount Network’s (and DAZN) gain as Vanderford will be in the opening fight on the live broadcast, thanks to an opportunity that for him was too good to pass up.
“We got this fight on 2.5 weeks notice. That’s the benefit of staying ready and being a professional and having your weight in check and always (being) ready for the opportunity because you never know. Who knows? If my debut was further on down the road, maybe it wouldn’t have been on the main card, but opportunity presented itself and I was ready — and we took it.”
That opportunity came because Pedro Carvalho was scratched because of an injury, freeing up a spot for this fight with Jones, an opponent who Vanderford doesn’t take lightly.
“He’s got accomplishments in his own (right). We’re both young in our fight careers right now so there’s not a ton to go off of as far as fights and films and all that stuff. It’s kind of cliche but I’ll say it myself — I’m gonna go out and focus on me and what I can do to my opponent and focus on that gameplan. There’s not a whole lot of good that’s going to come from seeing a fight from a year ago and then another one from like three years ago. We know he’s 6’2,” we know he’s a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, he’s finished I think four opponents in a row, and all that is what it is. I feel like I match up well and I’m going to go out and execute.”
Thanks to a great team supporting him, Vanderford is more than ready to step into the spotlight in Uncasville on Friday night.
“We’ve got a lot of tough guys. Our head coach is in Australia right now cornering our teammate Ricky Simon. Uncle Chael Sonnen is on the team, Ed Herman, Rick Story, you know we’ve got a lot of guys, but we also have a lot of young up and coming guys who are in this stable too that people are going to start hearing their names as well.”
Despite how ready he is to be in this position, Vanderford still has to take a moment to drink it in and appreciate the chance he’s been given with this fight.
“I’m excited to go out and showcase my skills, and it just so happens that I’m fortunate enough for it to be on the main card of Bellator. You know this is all I’ve ever wanted in this sport is to be able to be on the highest platform and to go out and showcase and take care of business.”
One last thing for “Mr. VanZant” — with a 50/50 split between knockouts and submissions in his four finishes thus far, does Vanderford have a preference in how to end a fight?
“You know what? A finish is a finish. It always feels good to go out and knock somebody out, but at the end of the day man for me it’s about getting the finish. You want to get the win and all that but I’m a finisher man. I like to go out and finish and end fights early. That’s what I’m gonna do. Whether it be a knockout, a TKO or a submission, I’m pretty sure we’re gonna see a finish on Friday night.”
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Mitrione vs. Kharitonov” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
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