The Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix has featured plenty of unexpected twists and turns. The tournament continues on Friday night with the two semifinal bouts at Bellator 289.
The main event clash between Raufeon Stots and Danny Sabatello is a perfect example of how unpredictable the tournament has been. Stots comes into the fight as the interim champion, having earned the title in the quarterfinals after champion Sergio Pettis was forced to withdraw from the tournament with an injury.
Sabatello, meanwhile, earned his way into the tournament via a "wild card" fight when Pettis and James Gallagher withdrew from the tournament, leaving two spots open. Sabatello beat Jornel Lugo before decisioning Leandro Higo to get to the semifinals and an opportunity to grab Bellator gold.
The build to the fight has seen both men trading verbal barbs, creating one of the most intriguing pre-fight rivalries in Bellator history.
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.
Stots has insisted that Sabatello's brash, trash-talking personality is merely a facade designed to hide insecurities over Sabatello's one-dimensional wrestling style. Sabatello has countered by running down Stots' skills while focusing more on his rival's personality.
"One thing I do want to do is just establish my dominance over him and my will over him," Sabatello told CBS Sports. "I don't want this to be a fight where people think, 'Holy shit, I don't know who would have won if they fought again.' No, I want to f---ing break this motherf---er. I don't even want it to be a quick first-round finish. Obviously, if that did happen, I would be happy. You got to be happy with any win you can get in this crazy sport. But I do want to make it a dogfight. I want to make it bloody. I want to f---ing torture him. I want to dominate him and then get the finish in those later championship rounds."
Stots is not incorrect that Sabatello is about as one-dimensional as modern fighters get. There is little mystery to how he approaches any fight. Sabatello wants to take fighters down, hold them there and grind out rounds. His five most recent fights have all gone the distance after finishing all but one of the first eight wins of his career.
Stots, meanwhile, is a fighter who is able to win through aggressive grappling, as he showed in his thrilling 2021 bout with Magomed Magomedov, or on the feet, as was the case when he knocked out Juan Archuleta to capture the interim belt.
When the fighters enter the cage, the fight will call back to one of the classic questions of mixed martial arts: Is it better to be great at one thing or good at many?
"I feel like Danny is one of the most one-dimensional fighters in Bellator history,". "He's very good and it's obvious. He's very good at wrestling. Another thing he's really good at is creating a facade or an illusion that he doesn't only want to wrestle. So I think that's what makes him so good. He's good at winning because he's good at getting to what he knows and what he is good at."
On the other side of the tournament bracket, former Stots foe Magomedov will face off with former title challenger Patchy Mix in an intriguing clash of grapplers.
Mix won his first 13 bouts, finishing almost every opponent by submission. That landed him in a bout with Juan Archuleta for the then-vacant bantamweight title. Archuleta outworked and exhausted Mix to take the win. Mix was able to rebound, however, and rattle off three victories, including defeating former champion Kyoji Horiguchi in his most recent fight, far and away the most impressive win of Mix's career.
"I've got much respect for Magomedov. He's tough and I've got a lot of respect for his skill set," Mix said in an interview with MMA Junkie Radio. "I'm excited to go test my skill set against him. I hope to see Stots in the finale, granted he gets his job done, because he was talking like I was running from him.
"No matter what happens, I'm not running from him. I want to get that name on my record and Sabatello just is absolutely trash and he sucks, so I think he'll be getting finished next Friday and he's got to really work on his game."
Magomedov's lone Bellator loss came in his war with Stots. He split a pair of fights in Russia with Petr Yan, who went on to become UFC bantamweight champion.
The fight will likely be a battle to determine who can establish positional dominance on the ground, with a trip to the tournament finals and a shot at the interim title for the victor.
A third marquee matchup headlines this event. Women's flyweight champion Liz Carmouche looks to leave no doubt in a rematch with the woman she earned the title from in Juliana Velasquez. Carmouche scored a TKO win over the previously unbeaten champ in April in what seemed like a questionable stoppage. Carmouche had worked into a crucifix position and was landing punches, but the punches did not seem to be doing much damage. Now Carmouche, who has won four in a row since joining the promotion, looks to silence the doubters as a betting underdog in the rematch.
Let's take a look at the rest of the main card with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before getting to predictions and picks on the two Grand Pix bouts.
Bellator 289 fight card, odds
|Raufeon Stots (c) -165||Danny Sabatello +140||Interim bantamweight title, Grand Prix semifinal|
|Juliana Velasquez -175||Liz Carmouche (c) +150||Women's flyweight title|
|Magomed Magomedov -125||Patchy Mix +105||Bantamweight Grand Prix semifinal|
|Dalton Rosta -900||Anthony Adams +600||Middleweight|
Raufeon Stots vs. Danny Sabatello: it's hard to side with a fighter like Sabatello. He just lacks a dynamic approach to fights. While he's good at grinding out rounds, as the level of opponent increases, so too does the need to be able to have different avenues you can take to victory. Higo had moments of outgrappling Sabatello and Stots has shown that he can battle solid grapplers. Stots will spend some time on his back, that's an inevitability against Sabatello. But Sabatello will have a harder time surviving Stots' more dynamic attack when he isn't able to employ his wet blanket attack. Pick: Stots via TKO3
Magomed Magomedov vs. Patchy Mix: It's hard to overlook the way that Stots was able to navigate Magomedov's ground game and even threaten with submissions. Mix is a dangerous grappler who will almost certainly finish if he ends up in some of the positions Stots was able to achieve against Magomedov. Magomedov's path to victory likely relies on tiring Mix out through constant pressure, but Mix looked much better across five rounds against Horiguchi than in the Archuleta fight. Mix is too dangerous and Magomedov can leave too many openings for such a technical opponent. Pick: Mix via SUB2