Bellator 289: Raufeon Stots Wins Tight Split Decision Over Danny Sabatello

Raufeon Stots after defeating Danny Sabatello, Bellator 289
Raufeon Stots, Bellator 289 Credit: Bellator MMA

Heated exchanges were constant in the run-up to the interim title fight and grand prix semifinal between interim champ Raufeon Stots and top contender Danny Sabatello at Bellator 289.

These two men simply do not like each other and have almost got into physical altercations while promoting the fight. Fans hoped to see that energy manifest itself in the cage as the winner looked to earn a spot in the final of the Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix and potentially win a million dollars. Stots won the interim title in his last fight with an electric knockout against former champion Juan Archuleta while Sabatello dominated Leandro Higo en route to a decision.

Stots opened southpaw against the orthodox Sabatello and pressured him back to the fence with kicks. The pair spent some time feeling each other out before Sabatello shot his first takedown. Stots defended it but got stuck in the clinch. He shucked to the back of Stots, picked him up, and threw him to the mat. Stots got to a knee quickly while Danny stuck one hook in, the fence blocking the other. Eventually Stots executed a roll and ended up front headlocked by Sabatello before falling into butterfly guard. Stots used the butterflies to sweep and gain top position but Sabatello came up on the single leg to get to his feet in the clinch. The round ended there with the fighters exchanging knees and jockeying for position.

The second round of course started on the feet, giving Stots a chance to make up ground after losing round one. He pressured Sabatello to the fence and looked to land big shots. Sabatello shot a takedown after one minute but this time Stots sprawled on it easily. Sabatello shot again later but Stots sprawled again and landed several good knees to the head of a standing up but bent over Sabatello. One more shot from far out from Sabatello ended up finally getting him to a favorable clinch position and he was able to drag Stots to the mat.

Sabatello tried to spin to the back but Stots tossed him over the top. Still, Sabatello was tenacious as always and went for Stots’ legs again. He dragged him down and got on Stots’ back with one hook in with thirty seconds left in the round. Stots went for a kneebar and actually got close but Sabatello spun out and got on top once again as the close round ended.

The third round started and Stots landed two decent straight left hands in the early going. Sabatello shot a takedown and got Stots to his knees but Danny threw an illegal knee. It was not super hard but still illegal, so the fighters were reset. Stots got back to pressuring Sabatello and trying to land his left hand. Sabatello shot takedowns periodically but Stots was sprawling on them and finding his rhythm with his hands, landing punches and avoiding returns. Halfway through the round Stots shot a surprise takedown of his own and was able to get Sabatello on his back against the fence.

Sabatello tried to scramble to his feet but Stots finally settled in top side control. Stots got too high up trying to set up a choke and Sabatello was able to stand up partly but Stots landed several legal knees to the head from a front headlock position. Sabatello got to Stots’ back after that but Stots shook him off and Danny got the front headlock this time with Stots on his knees. Stots separated soon and the pair ended the round on the feet. This was Stots’ best round by far and the score could have been 29-28 either way.

As the championship rounds started Sabatello had more success striking than in the last round but a few jabs from Stots snapped Sabatello’s head back. Sabatello shot a series of chain takedowns and finally ended up in an odd front headlock position where he also had a grip of the leg of Stots. Stots tried to roll to get out and ended up in a normal front headlock. Sabatello took the back and even though Stots tried to roll out of it every time he always either ended up with his back to the mat or with his back taken. He eventually did take the back fully but Stots spun out of it and got to his feet with one minute left in round four. Stots got back to his pressure striking and landed a good, strong combination that stunned Danny momentarily. Then, bizarrely, Stots shot a takedown but Sabatello defended it and the round ended on the feet. It was close but Sabatello had more duration of effective grappling.

The final round of a close fight started with Stots once again marching forward and landing punches on Sabatello, whose striking defense had been letting him down. Stots sprawled out a takedown with ease. Stots began using front kicks to the stomach and Sabatello did not react to them well. Sabatello finally got in on a takedown and after an intense scramble got somewhat on the back of Stots, in a very awkward position. Stots landed several elbows to the head as Sabatello’s head was right behind Stots’ elbow. Sabatello got to a better position and Raufeon tried to scramble out but got his back taken with on hook in. Sabatello spun to the top with Stots on his back. No matter how much Stots tried to roll and scramble, he could not get out of the sticky grip of Sabatello. Finally with 20 seconds left Stots got to his feet and the pair swung to the bell, ending a razor close round.

The decision was up in the air and could go either way. When the judge’s scorecards were read one judge had 50-45 Sabatello, another had it 48-47 for Stots, and the final judge had it 48-47 for Raufeon Stots. The damage of Stots surely won the day, as he did damage throughout while Sabatello often wrestled without throwing any strikes. Raufeon Stots successfully defended his interim bantamweight belt for the first time and advanced to the finals of the Grand Prix and would face Patchy Mix, who submitted Magomed Magomedov earlier in the night.

Ever the entertainer, Stots lead the crowd in a chant of, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” as Sabatello stormed out of the arena and followed that up with a “F*ck you Sabatello!”

Raufeon then faced off with his next opponent, the second ranked bantamweight in Bellator, Patchy Mix. The two jawed at each other but seemed to be much more respectful than Stots and Sabatello had been when they faced off after their quarterfinal bouts.

Official Result: Raufeon Stots def. Danny Sabatello by split decision (45-50, 48-47, 48-47)


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