In what will be one of the most significant events of the year for MMA, Bellator 289 returns to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT, on Friday, December 9th live on Showtime. The “Bantamweight World Grand Prix Semi-Finals” event features four fighters looking to have their hand raised in victory, including a one-million-dollar prize and a shot at the champ Sergio Pettis. One of those fighters is a twenty-nine-year-old from Chicago, IL, named Danny Sabatello (13-1).
Sabatello is an intriguing fighter as he has this larger-than-life personality that was pouring out of the phone when I spoke to him, and for someone like myself who had never interviewed him, it was a refreshing conversation. Sabatello is from the North Side of Chicago and has what he called “a very big Italian family,” but as far as siblings, he only has two older brothers (Joey & Vinny) who support him to the fullest and are his biggest fans. His wrestling journey started when he was four years old and has wrestled his entire life.
When he was around ten, that's when Sabatello was getting into MMA but was hearing things from people saying that his best bet was to stick with wrestling and revisit the thought of being an MMA fighter later on in life as it was still going to be there for him to pursue. Sabatello told NYF, “It was a smart decision to do that as now I can use my wrestling background in MMA.”
That indeed was smart as Sabatello won the state championship in Illinois, which he considers one of the best wrestling states in the country. He then attended the University of Purdue, where he was ready to establish some life goals that would set his path to becoming an MMA Pro. Sabatello said, “The goal was graduating college with my degree, finishing my wrestling career and then get into fighting (MMA). My one true love is fighting. A lot of people thought I was a good wrestler because the fact of the matter is that I was a good fighter.”
Sabatello continued “There came a time when I was done with wrestling, and I went full steam ahead with fighting. Their aren't too many mega gyms in Chicago, so I had to make a huge lifestyle change after moving back there. So, I decided to go to the best gym in the world, American Top Team, down in South Florida about four-ish years ago, and it's been fucking phenomenal.”
Fast forward to May last year when Sabatello made his Bellator debut as a last-minute replacement against Brett Johns (18-3). That isn't the ideal way you want to get your debut fight, but the way it turned out (earning a victory) was the best thing that could have happened, and it began the fast track up the ladder.
“It's fucking nuts. All I needed was an opportunity. All my coaches knew I would be a superstar once I got the opportunity. Bellator calls me on five fucking days' notice to fight Brett Johns, who was I think, #10 in the UFC before he went to Bellator. I was like, ‘this is perfect, let's do it,' as there was going to be a lot of hype on the fight because it was a high-up guy. I knew from there things were going to absolutely take off,” said the Chicago native. Just like you are reading, it was that same energy he was giving me as the level of intensity started to rise with every question being asked.
Getting into the preparation portion of his upcoming fight, Sabatello is over the moon about finally having an entire training camp dedicated to an opponent, as his last few fights have been on short notice. Sabatello will have his camp in South Florida at the American Top Team Gym with all his focus on one man; Raufeon “Supa” Stots (18-1 MMA, 6-0 BMMA).
Sabatello told NYF, “I'm always in training camp as I'm in the gym twice a day, every day, at the best gym in the world. Since he is a southpaw, I'll get more southpaw looks but other than that, it won't be any different than any normal training camp. Now I have a three-month fucking gap before my next fight. And it's crazy because it will be my best performance yet as this is the most amount of time I had for a training camp to actually train and hone in on one opponent.“
As far as his opponent, Sabatello doesn't see the need to do anything different than what he has been doing so far while fighting under the Bellator banner. “He's not a great striker or a great grappler. It's going to be a very basic training camp. Everything is going to go my way, and I am going to fucking break this guy.“
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is worth a million dollars, and it's a unique approach within the combat sports space. A million can change some things in your life, and who wouldn't want to cash in on something like that, especially during these crazy economic times. When Sabatello began to speak on this topic, his energy level lowered slightly as he isn't driven by money.
Sabatello said, “I'm not a huge money guy. Obviously, that one million dollars will look nice in my bank account, but at the end of the day, I want to be the best fighter in the world. If I wanted money, I would've probably started a business and shit. To me, I just want to be the baddest motherfucker on the planet, and that means becoming the Bellator bantamweight champion.“
Yes, towards the end of that answer, the lowered energy level quickly returned to its high level. While recognizing that, it was a perfect opportunity to set the expectation level for those tuning into Showtime on December 9th. “Fans should expect a very unique fight, one that they haven't ever seen before. This is going to be the most built-up fight in Bellator history. So this is a fight that no one should miss. When you have two guys that really don't like each other, it's a recipe for fireworks. I don't know his point of view, but my point of view is that I want to curb stomp this guy. Fans can also expect an absolute mauling, violence, blood, and a finish from me with a fourth round TKO.”