Bellator 289: There's talking, there's trash talking and then there's Danny Sabatello

Conor McGregor was hardly the first fighter to use trash talking to build his reputation and increase his marketability — ever heard of a boxer named Muhammad Ali? — but McGregor took it to another level during his run to becoming the UFC's biggest star.

Bellator's Danny Sabatello is trying hard, maybe too hard, to become the modern day McGregor. The former Purdue wrestler has set his sights on Bellator bantamweight champion Raufeon Stots, and the two meet Friday in the main event of Bellator 289 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut for Stots' bantamweight title and a spot in the finals of the Grand Prix.

Stots is the champion, but Sabatello has tried to position himself as the star.

"Bottom line, my role is huge," he said. "This is the Danny Sabatello Show. I’m the main event. One guy that should be sending me a Christmas gift is Raufeon Stots. He’s been in the game forever. There’s nothing new with this guy; he’s getting all this attention because of me. When I fight for the title, it’s going to be massive. It’s exciting times for Team Sabatello, and it’s only going to get better.”

Sabatello fought, and won, on Dana White's Contender Series on Nov. 10, 2020, but he didn't earn a UFC contract. Sabatello won an easy unanimous decision over Taylor Moore at DWCS 35, but it was a fight that fans didn't find all that entertaining.

Regardless of how the bout was perceived, the win over Moore showed Sabatello was capable of not just competing, but winning at the highest level of the sport. Since joining Bellator, he's gone 3-0 by winning unanimous decision victories over Brett Johns, Jornel Lugo and Leandro Higo to raise his overall MMA mark to 13-1.

Bellator bantamweight champion Raufeon Stots poses with trash-talking challenger Danny Sabatello (right) prior to their bout Friday in the main event of Bellator 289. (Lucas Noonan/Bellator MMA)
Bellator bantamweight champion Raufeon Stots poses with trash-talking challenger Danny Sabatello (right) prior to their bout Friday in the main event of Bellator 289. (Lucas Noonan/Bellator MMA)

Stots hasn't been able to contain himself and he's fired back at Sabatello. He's proven his game is diverse enough to win at the sport's highest level. He doubts that Sabatello has done that.

"I was bred to beat wrestlers," Stots said. "I’m a wrestler myself. His style is so one-dimensional, I just have to watch out for one thing. I think this is going to be one of my easier fights. I don’t see him having the skills necessary to win this fight.”

Sabatello didn't take kindly to Stots' words, but he didn't reserve his ire for Stots alone. Patchy Mix and Magomed Magomedov meet in the other, far less publicized Grand Prix semifinal bout.

Mix had the temerity to pick Stots to win and retain his title, which set Sabatello into a rage. Whether it was legitimate anger or just another line delivered to influence headlines can be debated, but Sabatello has taken the role as Bellator's No. 1 heel and is running hard with it.

“I forgot those two little pipsqueaks were on my fight card," he said. "This whole division, I see them talking and being buddy-buddy. I’m not in the friends business, I’m in the face-punching business. [Mix] can predict Stots wins. I don’t give a f**k. I don’t have a prediction for their fight, because they both suck.”

So Sabatello keeps on talking and predicting all sorts of mayhem, but at one point, the cage door is going to close and he's going to have to back up his words against someone who isn't intimidated by talking.

Until the time comes that's he's forced to stop jabbering, though, Sabatello plans to keep the verbal warfare coming.

"Raufeon’s very scared," Sabatello said. "He swings back and forth whenever I face off with him. He tries to turn it into positive energy [but] that’s just nervous energy. That’s his way of trying to cope with things. I can already see that he’s in my head. I am in Stots’ head, and I’m going to put it on full display this Friday night.

“A lot of people are going to be writing me off because they’re haters. All successful people have haters, and I have a lot of haters. I’m very good at this thing. I don’t listen to the haters or any of that bullsh**. All the people who say I suck haven’t been in a fight. If you look at my skills and abilities, what I’ve done to people, this fight should be no problem.”