Bantamweight Danny Sabatello made his promotional debut for Bellator MMA last year, pulling off an impressive upset over Brett Johns on short notice.
Yet somehow, Sabatello (11-1) was excluded from the promotion’s 135lb rankings following the win. That’s something that caught the fighter, and many others, by surprise.
“It is just a little bit funny, because Brett Johns is a guy that I think was top 10 in the UFC. His only losses were to Aljamain Sterling and Pedro Munhoz, so that’s just a very elite fighter,” Sabatello told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “And on top of that, you’ve got me getting the call from my manager five days before the fight to fight him. This wasn’t like I had a full training camp. This was five days notice, plus in a addition to that, I straight dominated him. This wasn’t a close fight. This was a fight where, from bell to bell, every single round, I was on top of him, mauling him, straight dominating him, leaving no doubt that I was the better fighter in that fight.”
Given all the circumstances, Sabatello said, “I don’t know how I’m not ranked. And especially when you look at the rankings and you’ve got guys in the rankings named Cass Bell and Jornel Lugo and James Gallagher who absolutely f*cking suck, I’m not really too sure how you can look at them and say they’re ranked ahead of me.”
Ranking or no ranking, however, doesn’t change things for Danny Sabatello. “It doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t fight because of rankings. I don’t really give two sh*ts about the rankings. My goal in this sport is to become the world champion, so the world champion is the world champion. There’s no rank for the world champion, it’s just champion.”
While Sabatello isn’t fighting for rankings, they did impact his placement in the bantamweight grand prix — with the end result being he was initially overlooked for the tournament. When a couple of fighters pulled out due to injury, however, Sabatello landed in a wild card fight with Jornel Lugo at Bellator 278 later this week.
“I really do like these grand prix tournaments. I think they’re really exciting, and I think they’re great for the fans as well,” said Sabatello, likening the grand prix format to playoffs in hockey, football, or basketball. “This is pretty much our playoffs. You take the best guys, and you put them in a playoff, you put them in a bracket. And that’s what’s going on. Even the wild card spot, even in other sports, you have wildcards. I think it’s just really fun for everyone, and it’s the most fair as well.”
Sabatello also appreciates that it removes any excuses for coming up short in the quest for a title. “If you win, you move on, if you lose, you don’t. There’s no room for ‘oh, blah blah blah, I should have got it, I beat this guy, he lost to him,’ there’s none of that sh*t. It’s just strictly, you win and you move on.”
“I know in these dumbass MMA fans’ minds, they might think that I’m a dark horse, but I think the fans that actually understand fighting and understand and have been following mixed martial arts understand that my skill set is too great to be considered a dark horse.”
His placement in a wildcard fight brings up memories of Daniel Cormier, who won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix over a decade ago as a tournament alternate. Sabatello, however, has the mindset that he deserved to be in the grand prix all along.
“I know I am in a wildcard spot, so it’s similar to [Cormier], but I don’t really look at myself as the dark horse. I look at myself as the favorite. I know in these dumbass MMA fans’ minds, they might think that I’m a dark horse, but I think the fans that actually understand fighting and understand and have been following mixed martial arts understand that my skill set is too great to be considered a dark horse.”
“I have too many dominant wins under crazy circumstances to be considered a dark horse. I guess it is going to be crazy and awesome and cool to be looked as, you know what, maybe I shouldn’t have been in the tournament, but in the back of my mind, I’ve always been in this tournament,” Sabatello continued. “I’ve earned my right to be in this tournament. And now I’ve got to just go out there and show I am the best in the world.”
Sabatello has made a point of underscoring his opinion that Jornel Lugo “sucks” ahead of their fight. On where that estimation comes from, the American Top Team Fighter explained that “I just think he’s very sloppy with everything.”
“I don’t think he has any grappling, I think that’s my strong suit, I’m going to take advantage of that.” Sabatello believes Lugo is sloppy on the feet as well, even though that’s where Lugo likes to be and is most comfortable at. “I think I’m going to expose that. I know that he is a little bit tricky because he’s southpaw and he likes to switch stances, but that’s pretty much his only game, is to just keep you on your toes and be elusive, and pop a good jab out. I know he likes the jab a lot, but you can’t really build a game plan off that, you can’t really become a world champion of just being that.”
Styles make match-ups, Sabatello added, “and I’m very excited about this match-up. Specifically because you look at his style, and he sucks; you look at my style, and I’m very good. So it’s just perfect on my end.”
Bellator 278 takes place this Friday, April 22, 2022 at the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii. Danny Sabatello faces Jornel Lugo in a bantamweight grand prix wild card fight on the main card.