'Mr. VanZant' Austin Vanderford has seen worst of MMA fans, but won't call out foes

STAMFORD, Conn. – Austin Vanderford is about to make his Bellator debut at middleweight, a division thinner than his previous welterweight class with the exception of the top five.

At 29, Vanderford is in prime position to make moves, and the name recognition he enjoys from his wife, UFC star Paige VanZant, only helps matters when it comes to MMA’s popularity game, which rushes title shots.

Just days away from his second Bellator appearance, Vanderford wants marquee opponents to solidify his name. And yet, he’s not calling out anyone without reason.

“For me to call people out would be too much not being myself,” Vanderford (7-0 MMA, 1-0 BMMA), who faces Joseph Creer (6-0-1 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) at Bellator 225, told MMA Junkie. “If there’s a fight that makes sense, absolutely. But just to call somebody out just to do it, is not what I was taught to do and is not the person I am.”

Vanderford has daily opportunities to get vocal, especially if he decides to read the messages sent to him on social media. As VanZant’s partner, he is by default a lightning rod for opinions about their relationship.

That’s why there’s no line with Vanderford when it comes to what prospective opponents can and can’t say.

“I’m sure I’ve heard about the worst of it and seen the worst of it in my messages,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in my marriage, so no line for me is uncrossable. I find a lot of humor in it. I like to prove to people that I’m much more than the husband of Paige VanZant.”

Vanderford figures he can do that more expediently – and lengthen his MMA career – if he’s cutting less weight. Walking around at between 200 and 205 pounds, the size he’s giving up as a welterweight is offset by the benefits of not depleting himself at the scale.

Plus, the middleweight division simply has fewer established veterans, making it easier to get face-to-face with talent like Gegard Mousasi, Lyoto Machida and champ Rafael Lovato Jr.

A recent grappling match with Jake Shields convinced Vanderford that he could hang with elite grappling talent like Lovato Jr.

As a wrestler, Vanderford believes his skill set is enough to take down strikers like Mousasi and Machida.

“Any of those guys is a tough fight and takes a lot of preparation, but I think the camp that I’m at and just what I do as a fighter, I do think they’re all great matchups,” he said. “Those are all fights that I look so forward to testing myself against.”

But first, he needs to build some momentum, which is where Creer comes in. Given that he won’t do his talking outside the cage like longtime teammate Chael Sonnen, he’s got to do it in the cage. And the more one-sided conversations he can have, the better.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

Read the full article here: 'Mr. VanZant' Austin Vanderford has seen worst of MMA fans, but won't call out foes