Raufeon Stots has the biggest fight of his career just around the corner, though he’s not convinced his opponent is up to the task.
On Friday, Bellator 289 is headlined by Stots defending his interim bantamweight title against Danny Sabatello, a grudge match that also serves as the semifinals of a $1,000,000 grand prix tournament. Stots and Sabatello have been engaged in a relentless war of words for months, and while Stots has enjoyed the build to the fight, he’s ready to put to rest any doubt that he’s the superior fighter.
“He might be among the top 5 worst opponents that I’ve faced as far as skill level,” Stots said on The MMA Hour when asked to appraise Sabatello’s fighting ability. “Top 5 worst opponent that I’ve faced. One guy, he fought me on a week’s notice and he was, like, coming off of a drinking bender, my first fight. So I know for a fact [Sabatello is] better than that guy. But top 5 worst opponent.”
Overrated or not, Sabatello has looked like a championship contender since debuting with Bellator in May 2021. “The Italian Gangster” is 13-1 as a pro and 3-0 inside the Bellator cage, with decision wins over more established names like Leandro Higo and Brett Johns.
Stots is also undefeated in six appearances for Bellator, and even if the two bantamweights weren’t currently competing in the same tournament, it’s likely their paths were eventually going to cross. Their rivalry has quickly become one of the most heated in MMA, but Stots doubts Sabatello is capable of backing up any threats of violence on fight night.
“If you look at his game, he talks a big game, he loves to talk about he he’s going to bash somebody’s face in,” Stots said. “How it’s going to be a bloody fight. But all he do is he’s a position artist.
“He a cap artist and a position artist. He’s not going to do anything other than try to hold me. So there’s one thing I’ve got to look out for. Literally, one thing I’ve got to worry about. That’s the easiest fight preparation I’ve had in my career.”
Given how Sabatello has used his wrestling to neutralize several opponents, there is a distinct possibility that he successfully employs the same strategy against Stots. However, Stots wants to assure everyone planning to watch that the fight will deliver on the action front, even if it turns out to be one-sided in his favor.
“I don’t think the fight will live up to the hype for me as far as being competitive, but the fans are going to get to see what they love to see and that’s knockout or submissions because I’m coming in there to hurt him for 25 minutes,” Stots said. “S***, I might beat him up again after the fight.
“But the fans are definitely going to get what they want when it comes to the fight, because I’m going to make sure of that. He ain’t going to make sure of that because he doesn’t have exciting fights. I know how to make fights exciting, and I know how to fight so there’s nothing he can do about being in a position where he’s going to have to take a lot of damage, and people are going to be oohing and ahing and blood is going to be splattering everywhere. There’s nothing he can do to stop that.”
Always with a smile on his face, Stots laughs at the suggestion he may enter the cage on Friday with his emotions out of sorts. As much as the hype for his fight with Sabatello has consumed much of his life these past few months, he isn’t stressed about any words that have been exchanged between the two of them.
And that’s because Stots believes he knows what Sabatello is all about.
“Let me just say one more thing about Danny,” Stots said. “I figured Danny out. What he is, is he’s a curmudgeon. He’s like a scrooge that knows everybody’s going to hate him, so he tries to hate them first.
“One of the biggest things he hates about me is that I go and like people’s s***. He’s one of those guys that’s looking on people’s pages, but not liking s*** just because he’s like, ‘Oh, he probably doesn’t like me, so f*** you. He doesn’t like me, so f*** you.’ He wants to say ‘F*** you’ first.”