One of the unsung prospects fighting on the same Bellator card as Ed Ruth and Tyrell Fortune at the Mohegan Sun on Friday night is Dominic Mazzotta — the Pennsylvania-based fighter known as “The Honey Badger.” Mazzotta will take on the bluest of blue-chip fighters in A.J. McKee on the main card of Bellator 178 in Connecticut.
Yet anybody who follows the sport closely knows that this is a crossroads between two nice prospects. The 22-year old McKee, son of MMA veteran Antonio, is undefeated in his young pro career (7-0). His name has quickly become a buzzword in Bellator. Mazzotta is 12-1, riding a nine-fight winning streak in which seven of those wins came via submission. His only loss in his pro career came against none other than current UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt back in 2014.
Mazzotta carries as much fanfare and upside as McKee heading into their Friday night showdown in Uncasville. Not that Mazzotta necessarily sees them on equal footing.
“I look at it like I’m the veteran of this sport,” Mazzotta told MMA Fighting recently. “He’s been in Bellator, and I don’t even think he’s fought anywhere else. He’s kind of been pampered by Bellator since he came in. I’ve had to fight in hostile situations. I’ve been booed, I’ve been cheered, been in big arenas, been in big fights since pretty much the beginning of my career. Every fight except maybe one or two of them has been a big fight. I’ve been in there with world champions. I would be surprised if I wasn’t favored for this fight.”
Mazzotta hails from Pittsburgh, just 85 miles east of where Garbrandt grew up in Uhrichsville, Ohio. A few years ago they created a rivalry on the regional scene after Mazzotta submitted Garbrandt at a grappling tournament held at the Pittsburgh Fight Club. Garbrandt, who is undefeated in MMA, began to call out Mazzotta after tapping to that armbar.
“It was kind of crazy,” Mazzotta says. “He had a fight, I was in the crowd, and he called me out. The next week I was in a fight, I called him out. He came in the cage, and it kind of went head-to-head, and we ended up fighting. It was a cool experience. It felt like it was on a bigger platform than what it was, and it really prepared me for what was to come.”
Garbrandt dealt Mazzotta his lone loss at Gladiators of the Cage in March 2014. Nine months later, Garbrandt was in the UFC, while Mazzotta was forced to build himself back up on the local scene.
“You know what, I thought I was going to win that fight,” Mazzotta says. “I wouldn’t have taken the fight if I thought I had any chance of losing. It was a tough fight. Cody is one of the best fighters in the world. The fight was huge at the time. Literally, it was one of the biggest regional fights in the country maybe ever. I feel like that helped me as far as nerves and everything, as far with all the people there and all the buzz around it. It kind of helped me realize that none of that stuff matters.
“But yeah, I’m proud of Cody. He’s a good guy. He deserves everything he gets. I always knew he was one of the best fighters in the region. I am right there with him. I’ve always felt I was right there with him. All the guys that train with both of us know where I stand. I figured that both of us would eventually be at the top. He did the right things. I knew that he would, I just didn’t think it would be so far. He did a good job, and the UFC did a good job promoting him.”
Mazzotta, who trains at the Mat Factory in Pittsburgh (among other gyms in the area) says he has learned more in that single loss than he has in any one of his dozen victories. It’s taken him a bit longer to break through, but he’s been steadily beating back challenges — anybody from Lake Erie down to Morgantown, and everywhere in between — since that time.
He won his last fight against Solon Staley in December to make it nine straight, and he got the call shortly thereafter by the Bellator brass to stand in against “Mercenary” McKee.
“It was like Christmas, man, I was super-excited,” he says. “I’ve been waiting for this a long time. And I’ve been putting my head down training, winning fights, not complaining, and just knowing that something was going to have to break through eventually.
“When I got the call, I was just hysterical about it. No doubts in my head whether or not I was going to take the fight. I’m just excited to be able to put on a show for the whole world. I’m ready to showcase that I’m one of the best fighters in the world.”
For a guy who has spent the bulk of his fighting career within earshot of his hometown, Mazzotta says happy for the break. But he’s not exactly reverent of his competition.
“No, I’m not really impressed at all,” he says. “Honestly, I don’t watch film. I’m one of them fighters that doesn’t watch, unless I’ve seen them fight before. But from what I know about him, yeah, I’m not impressed. To be honest with you I feel like I’m fighting a local regional fight on a national stage. That’s what it feels like to me. That’s he’s just another one of the guys I’ve been fighting for the last three years. I’m pretty confident that I can get him out of there.”