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Danny Sabatello: Aljamain Sterling easier fight than Leandro Higo, Raufeon Stots

UFC fighters occupy 10 of the 15 spots in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings (16 if you count a tie at No. 11). Bellator-aligned fighters occupy four spots, while ONE Championship has, well, one.

You know what Danny Sabatello would call this list? F****** bulls***.

There’s a much simpler answer to the Bellator bantamweight, whose mouth has distinguished him from the start of his short tenure in the Paramount-owned promotion.

“What division am I in? That one,” Sabatello said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “Bellator. We have the f****** best division in MMA, regardless of the f****** promotion. You look at our division, it’s so f****** packed with guys. And then obviously, I’m there, I’m the best bantamweight on the planet, so Bellator’s the best.

“But I really do think in terms of depth, our top-8 are better than any other promotion’s top-8, no matter if it’s UFC, PFL, ONE, whatever the f*** you want. Bellator’s bantamweight division is the best, and that’s why I’m so pumped about this f****** tournament is because once I win this tournament, I’ll be recognized as the best bantamweight in the world, regardless of the promotion. Bellator’s bantamweight division is getting talked about a lot, and it should just because it’s the best in MMA.”

If history is any indication, the above statement, mostly impossible to prove given promotional lines and probably a vast overstatement given their respective talent pools, will get its messenger shot (verbally). Sabatello is relatively new on the big stage, a grinder who once earned a 30-24 score but no contract on Dana White’s Contender Series, and completely inexperienced against ranked competition. He’s fought two UFC veterans – one knocked him out, and the other he smothered for a decision. Eight of his 13 opponents carry losing records. At this point, most MMA fans will shrug, dismiss, or ignore him.

You know what Danny Sabatello would call those people? F****** idiots.

Until you prove him wrong, you’re just going to have to keep listening. Chael Sonnen is Sabatello’s hero and Colby Covington is his enemy (he rides with American Top Team colleague Jorge Masvidal). In many ways, he’s doing them both proud in advance of his Bellator 282 meeting with Leandro Higo. He’s got the same swagger, Covington’s cop glasses, and bleached-blond hair. He says he’s just being himself.

The Paramount-owned promotion doesn’t have a lot of natural heels on the mic since Sonnen hung up the gloves, so the company should be thankful. Higo, his opponent at Bellator 282, is already biting on the bait, ratcheting up the trash talk. If Sabatello is able to keep putting his money where his mouth is, it won’t be long before bigger fish get in on the action. Everyone is on his hit list.

“Dude, I would kill Aljamain [Sterling],” Sabatello said. “That’s a fight that, obviously, I can’t call out these UFC guys because I’m just not going to fight them any time soon – I’m in Bellator, it would be silly to call them out. I would f*** Aljamain up. That’s an easy fight stylistically. Look at it stylistically, that’s a fight that I would f*** him up in. But obviously, I just want to stick to Bellator right now. Those guys are on my plate, but Aljamain that’s an easy fight. That’s an easier fight then Higo or Stots or any of these guys. But yeah, Bellator’s bantamweight division is the best.

“Look at our f****** top-8 with Magomed – Magomed beat Yan. Stots. Sergio [Pettis] sucks, I don’t want to put him in the conversation, but yeah, Stots, Magomed, me, Patchy Mix, if he gets your back, he’s very hard to get off. [Enrique] Barzola’s pretty good. Higo’s got some good wins.

“When you look at their wrestlers, like Merab [Dvalishvili], who can’t hold anybody down. All he does is mat return people. They count them for takedowns, but it’s just a mat return. He f****** can’t hold anybody down. It’s pathetic. I would dog-walk Merab also. I’m very serious in that I really do think Bellator bantamweight division is the best in MMA, and again, it just makes it so much sweeter with this tournament. I love that it’s a tournament, because a lot of times, when you don’t have a tournament, you can pick and choose who gets your title fight. No. I get to f****** go through a tournament, I get to go through the f****** ringer, where nobody can say s***. I had to go through everybody to get this championship.”

That’s a statement that’s hard to contest. Right now, the upper reaches of the bantamweight rankings are out of his reach. Even if he could fight Sterling or Dvalishvili, he’d offer no upside. But if he wins the tournament, he can at least make it clear that he should be considered one of the best 135-pound fighters in the world. Save for the champion, who’s nursing an injury, all the top names are in the Belllator bantamweight grand prix. There’s also a $1 million prize at the end of it all.

“I don’t even want to think about that right now,” Sabatello said. “Obviously, the money’s going to be nice. I can think of a zillion different things to do, most of which include models on a yacht in Sicily, but I can probably do that on right now. So I’m just more focused on being the best bantamweight in the world.”

The money is one carrot on the path. There’s also the satisfaction that comes from the lifelong wrestler within Sabatello that cares most about the competition, the honor being called the best. It’s not a lifetime appointment, by the way. He wants to go through the ringer, come out with his hand raised, and then celebrate very loudly. This is not his play for MMA immortality.

You know know what Danny Sabatello says about those fighters, the ones who want their names to ring out forever?

“People want to say that they do this for legacy, like when they’re dead, they want their name to carry on,” he said. “Dude, I don’t give a f***. I’ll be dead. I won’t even be able to have a chance to care, so who gives a s***.”