Austin Vanderford will be leaving Ireland at some point next week, and he can’t imagine doing so without a new piece of hardware.

Friday, at Bellator 275, Vanderford (11-0 MMA, 5-0 BMMA) challenges middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi (48-7-2 MMA, 6-1 BMMA) for the title in Dublin. It’ll be both his first championship fight and his first five-round bout with the promotion.

Despite the upped-ante, Vanderford is confident he has what it takes to compete and win at the championship level. Winning a world title is what he set out to do, and Vanderford is focused on proving to the world Friday he’s the best in Bellator.

“It would mean everything (to become champion),” Vanderford said at a pre-fight news conference Wednesday. “I was holding it for photos the other day and I just can’t picture leaving Ireland without it.”

“… As far as workload, it’s not as much. It’s just a little bit longer as far as sparring and whatnot. Even at American Top Team, we pretty much spar five rounds all the time anyway. Previously, earlier on in my career, I fought a five-round fight and I went all five rounds and all that. So I’m not too, too concerned on that. I think we have a good game plan going into Friday night.”

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As for what that game plan is, Vanderford did not elaborate further. However, his style is similar to those who have had success against Mousasi in past fights. Both Rafael Lovato Jr. and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal utilized their wrestling and grappling to weigh heavy on Mousasi, something Vanderford could possibly replicate Friday.

“I expect him to be Gegard and not much will change from all of his previous fights,” Vanderford said. “I’m just a different animal and a different opponent that he’ll be facing up against. I feel good. I’m confident. I’m excited for Friday night. … I think just even going into the fight, I knew he’s as well-rounded as they come for any opponent.

“He doesn’t necessarily have weak spots. There are just spots I feel that I’m better at and that I can capitalize on and all that. That’s been the biggest focus for the fight. Of course, there are things that you watch for anyone to be careful against and all that, but I feel really strong about my grappling ability and my jiu-jitsu abilities specifically.”

Bellator 275 takes place Friday at 3Arena in Dublin. The main card airs on Showtime after prelims on MMA Junkie.


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