In the end, Raufeon Stots had the last laugh.
After months of dueling trash talk, the interim Bellator bantamweight champion fended off a relentless grappling attack from Danny Sabatello to capture a split decision win and advance to the finals of Bellator’s $1 million bantamweight grand prix. Judges Bryan Miner and Eric Colon scored the contest 48-47 for Stots, while the lone dissenter Doug Crosby inexplicably scoring the bout 50-45 for Sabatello, giving Stots the narrow victory Friday in the main event of Bellator 289, which took place at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
“F*** you Sabatello!” an elated Stots said after the heated build-up between the two rivals. “He didn’t do no damage. I was walking him down the whole time, I had his face bloody, I got blood all in that highlighter head, and we’re moving on to the finals, baby.”
From the start, it was clear that wrestling was Sabatello’s game plan. The brash 29-year-old scored takedowns in every round but the third and consistently hunted for a way to get to Stots’ back, however Sabatello (13-2) failed to mount much — if any — effective offense with his positional advantages, despite racking up more than 10 minutes of ground control time. Stots (19-1), on the other hand, stuffed 15 of Sabatello’s 19 takedown attempts and led the striking battle throughout the 25-minute affair, racking up 90 strikes to Sabatello’s 43.
Sabatello stormed off in a fury following the reading of the scorecards, however in-ring interviewer and longtime MMA official John McCarthy voiced his agreement with prioritizing the damage inflicted by Stots over the control sustained by Sabatello.
“He was trying to control me, hold my nuts all f****** fight,” Stots said to McCarthy. “Well, hugging nuts don’t win fights. Damage does. Let’s go.”
Meeting Stots in the tournament’s finals will be Patchy Mix (17-1), the 29-year-old bantamweight who became the first man to finish Magomed Magomedov (19-3) after putting the Russian to sleep with a nasty guillotine choke at the 2:39 mark of Round 2.
Despite being an underdog, Mix established his weapons early, nearly catching Magomedov in a similar guillotine attempt midway through the opening round.
With upset wins over Kyoji Horiguchi and Magomedov, Mix is now one fight away from steamrolling his way to the bracket’s $1 million prize.
“You best be sure I’m coming for that f****** title,” Mix roared after his win.
The other title bout on the card featured a rematch between Bellator flyweight champion Liz Carmouche (18-7) and Juliana Velasquez (12-2) following Carmouche’s controversial come-from-behind win over Velasquez to claim the belt this past April.
This time around, however, there was neither controversy nor a need for a comeback.
Carmouche dominated the action with her takedowns and grappling before sealing the deal with a mounted armbar at 4:24 of Round 2. The finish marked Carmouche’s first armbar stoppage since her second pro win back in 2010, and she relished in the vindication of her performance after months of simmering bad blood between the two flyweights.
“She tapped and it popped, so there’s no doubts anywhere [this time],” a grinning Carmouche said.
“With 2023, I see two things happening. I see Bellator opening up a [women’s] 135 division where Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and I can fight in Hawaii for her retirement like she wanted, and then [Kana] Watanabe gets a crack at the title in Japan at the end of the year.”
In the opening bout of the main card, up-and-coming middleweight Dalton Rosta (8-0) remained unbeaten with a hard-fought unanimous decision over Anthony Adams (9-3) after nearly knocking out Adams in the fight’s closing minute.
All three judges scored the contest 30-27 for Rosta, giving the 27-year-old his eighth victory under the Bellator banner.
- Raufeon Stots def. Danny Sabatello via split decision (45-50, 48-47, 48-47)
- Liz Carmouche def. Juliana Velasquez via submission (armbar) at 4:24 of Round 2
- Patchy Mix def. Magomed Magomedov via submission (guillotine choke) at 2:39 of Round 2
- Dalton Rosta def. Anthony Adams via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Ilara Joanne def. Denise Kielholtz via split decision (29-28, 27-30, 30-27)
- Jaleel Willis def. Kyle Crutchmer via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Cris Lencioni def. Cody Law via split decision (30-27, 28-29, 30-27)
- Christian Echols def. Pat Downey via KO (uppercut) at 2:27 of Round 1 | Watch finish
- Kai Kamaka III def. Kevin Boehm via TKO (strikes) at 2:23 of Round 3
- Michael Lombardo def. Mark Lemminger via TKO (left hook and punches) at 4:23 of Round 1
- Cass Bell def. Jared Scoggins via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)