Boardroom checks in with “The Italian Gangster” before his scrap with Raufeon Stotts at Bellator 289 to discuss the art of trash talk, his sicko love of weight cutting, and so much more.
What’s your Twitter bio? Danny Sabatello’s is “Fuck you.”
Folks, you don’t earn the nickname “The Italian Gangster” by volunteering at the rec center and nursing baby birds back to health. Within several picoseconds of discourse with Danny Sabatello, you discover that he is the living embodiment of his painstakingly constructed Twitter bio — he’d medal at the profanity Olympics, but his sheer, unvarnished directness can be bizarrely refreshing when juxtaposed with a mixed martial arts milieu typically awash in cheap hype, dissembling, and performative bluster often indistinguishable from carnival-barking.
In that spirit, let’s get to the point.
Back in late summer during a New York media tour in the run up to Sabatello’s Bantamweight Grand Prix semifinal bout against interim champion Raufeon Stotts at Bellator 289 on Dec. 9, Boardroom caught up with the inimitable Chicago-born violence merchant. In a wide-sweeping conversation, he discussed the art and science of trash talk, who in MMA doesn’t actually love fighting, his sicko embrace of weight cutting, the awful, grisly things he plans to do to his opponent Friday night, and much more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
SAM DUNN: Your particular energy tends to be on a different frequency than most fighters. Is that true for your fight camps, too?
DANNY SABATELLO: Ever since I started, injury or not, I’m always gonna push forward. I’m always gonna go to the best gym in the world, American Top Team, twice a day. I’m always gonna be trained hard. I’m somebody that doesn’t really believe in fight camps or anything like that, so when people ask me how this fight camp is going, I say nothing really is different. Maybe you kind of fine-tune something here or there against a certain opponent. Against Stotts, he’s a southpaw, so maybe I get a little bit more southpaw looks.
SD: How does the Bellator Grand Prix format and the cadence of the bouts affect your overall approach?
DS: For me, I would fight six times a year. You know, a lot of guys in this fight game are pussies. They don’t actually love fighting. They wanna only fight once or twice a year and they say they’re hurt and don’t really go out there and perform, but with me, I absolutely love fighting. That’s why I live. I love the fight. I look forward to practice, believe it or not, every single day. Obviously not every single practice is the most exciting thing, but my life has just become obsessed with getting better at fighting and becoming the best in the world, so if it were up to me, I would fight so many fucking times a year.
That’s where I’m at with Stotts right now. I’m not thinking about the finals or the one after this. I’m just thinking about this piece of shit Stotts and going out there and stomping his head out. I’m gonna do everything in my power to do that. You know, I’m not thinking in the back of my mind, “Hey, stay healthy for this fight. Don’t take any damage because you got a big one after this.” No, I’m gonna do whatever I can to fucking kill this motherfucker. I can’t wait to go on there Dec. 9 and just absolutely beat the shit outta him. The preparation is gonna just be go out there, practice hard, train hard, spar hard, picture this motherfucker’s face every single practice. That’s what’s gonna get me better and prepare me to beat the shit out of this guy.
SD: Regarding the guys out there that you suggested don’t really love fighting — do you want to name names?
DS: Yeah, James Gallagher isn’t meant for this business. He’s not a fighter. He’s a little bitch. He’s a pussy. All he does is pull out of fights. It’s actually crazy that he’s still in the best promotion in the world in Bellator. I thought they’d cut him by now just ’cause they see he’s not actually a dog, he’s not a fighter.
That guy doesn’t wanna fight anybody good. I hope someday I do fight him, but the way our careers are going, it’s not looking like that. You know, all I’m doing is winning and all he’s doing is ducking out of fights, so he’s a guy. There’s multiple other guys throughout the sport, there’s a lot of guys that only wanna fight a couple times a year that aren’t really about this, that don’t really, actually love fighting.
I don’t think about the win, I don’t think about the celebration after, you know, when I’m thinking about fighting. I just can’t wait to go inside that cage and perform. I think a lot of people are not like that. I think they can’t wait to get it over with. I think they can’t wait until their camp is over, and that’s just what I live for. I love the camp. I love the torture, I love all this shit. I love going in there on fight night and showing to the world who I am. I love performing. I love beating the shit out of people and I love the pressure that comes along with it.
You know, I’ve been saying that this is gonna be one of the biggest fights in Bellator history and that’s something I can’t wait for. It’s not that I can’t wait for afterwards — after I beat the shit outta Stotts and I’m recognized by everybody — no, it’s that I can’t wait for Dec. 9 to actually be inside that cage and show the world my fighting ability.
SD: You’ve had several months to get ready for this one. Do you ever get sick of the preparation, the tape study, the pad work?
DS: I’m not sick of it at all. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it. You know, I’m obsessed with this sport. I’m obsessed with beating this shit outta Stotts and I’ve been watching a lot of film. I’ve been going through all this stuff. I’ve been having a lot of interviews, and man, I fucking love it. I love all this shit. I love everything that comes along with fighting. I even love the cutting weight, and that’s what everybody hates.
I’m not gonna get sick of anything. I’ve watched all of his fights multiple times now and I just get so juiced up just watching him, you know, sometimes I’ll pause the video and pause his fights and just get up and start shadowboxing. Next thing I know, I’m in a full-out sweat and I can’t wait to torture this motherfucker.
I’m not gonna get sick of the interviews. I’m not gonna get sick of the trash talk. If it were up to me, I would fight him every single day for the rest of my life. I hate this motherfucker. I just want fucking torture him and rip his face off, so when you’re that passionate about something and you are very excited for something, you don’t really get sick of it. This is my true passion. This is my true love in fighting, and if I don’t fucking love it, then I should get outta the business. If you’re not obsessed with studying film, with watching your opponent, trash-talking your opponent, visualizing beating this shit out of the guy before you go to sleep and when you wake up, then this isn’t cut out for you.
Or maybe I’m just an anomaly and I’m very different, which can also be something there. You know, everybody always says the talk is over once the cage door closes — the talk will never be over. I will talk to him inside that cage when I’m torturing him.
SD: Do you ever reveal the weight you walk around at between fights?
DS: No, but I am a bigger bantamweight. I’m 5-foot-10. I’m lanky, I’m tall. I think I’m probably the biggest in the Bellator bantamweight division. I do believe in cutting weight, but that’s just because I’m not a pussy. You know, there’s a lot of guys out there that don’t know how to cut weight, can’t cut weight, and always miss weight. Throughout my life I have never once missed weight and I started wrestling when I was five, so that compounds my entire wrestling career and my entire fighting career. I will never miss weight. That’s one thing I will always promise to fans and everybody.
I kind of fucking love it, you know, that’s just the sickness in me. That just means that I’m getting ready for war. When you’re cutting weight and you’re thirsty and you can appreciate a fucking ice cube, now I’m ready to fucking go in there and beat the shit outta someone. I’m ready to kill. I’m ready to die. I just know mentally I’m fucking ready. I do cut a lot of it — not too much like some of these other guys, but I do believe in cutting weight. I love being bigger than my opponent. I love being taller. I just love being better in all aspects.
Right now I’m just focused on getting better. When the weigh-in comes, I will make the fucking weight no matter what. I’ll chop off my fucking legs if I have to. That will never be an issue.
SD: If you ultimately win the Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix, you’re getting a million-dollar check. That’s life-changing. Are you the type who would treat yourself to something big if you won, or is it more about taking care of your family?
DS: No, not really. I don’t really give two fucks about the money. You know, I always say so many people are fucking rich in this world. So many people have a million dollars. They can get lucky and get rich, but there’s only one world champion, and that’s what my sights are on.
All I really give a fuck about is being the best fighter in the entire world, and I do get to obviously showcase that once I beat Stotts and then win the finals. Obviously, I’m not gonna be an idiot and say that the money’s a burden or I don’t care at all about the money. Obviously, it is a nice little perk, but I don’t really give two fucks about that. You know, I’ll probably end up spending it and wasting it on partying anyways. Then, we’re right back to the drawing board trying to earn another one.
Once you start thinking about the money and your goals are the money, you get too complacent and you’re not as motivated on the right things. Right now, my motivation is ending Stotts’ fucking life in that cage. That’s just what I want to do. That’s what I’ve become obsessed with. Obviously, if I win two fights, I would win that million dollars, but right now, the sights are just on Stotts and beating the shit out of him.
I’ll probably go to fucking Italy and start partying on yachts with models with that money, but I haven’t really given it too much thought.
This fight Dec. 9 is for the title. This isn’t for the interim title. [Bellator bantamweight champion] Sergio Pettis is a little bitch, he couldn’t make it to the fucking Grand Prix ’cause he’s a fucking pussy. That’s just what it is. And again, I’ve been saying it for a while now, after I beat Stotts and after I win the finals, then I would have Sergio for the title, but I think Pettis is gonna get hurt again and I don’t think he’s gonna fight me. I think he realizes that I’m the worst possible matchup for him. I don’t see that fight going through, so this fight Dec. 9 really is for the title.
SD: If and when you take care of business against Stotts, who do you face in the finals of the Grand Prix?
DS: I’m not too confident in the pick, but I think the mad Russian guy [Magomed Magomedov]. That other motherfucker, Patchy Mix, I don’t think he’s very good. He’s good in one position, and that’s when he has the body triangle on your back. He knows how to clamp onto his legs and that’s his path to victory. I think he knows that obviously that can happen against the Russian and he can win in that way, but if he doesn’t get that body lock on his back, I see the Russian beating him, but again, I’m not too confident in the picks.
I don’t really give a fuck one way or the other. There’s not a guy I’d rather probably fight. It would maybe be more fun fighting Mix just because we can trash talk back and forth, ’cause I don’t think that the Russian speaks too good of English, but I don’t really give a fuck who I have in the finals. To me, they’re on the same skill level. If I had to take a wild guess, it’d be the Russian, Magomed. But they both suck.
SD: I have been told that as a betting strategy, wagering any fighter with some form of “Magomed” in their name tends to be profitable.
DS: Yeah, the good thing about that is they usually have that Dagestani wrestling background, but Magomed’s wrestling compared to my wrestling is not even close. I don’t know what his strategy would be if we fight in the finals, but if it’s to wrestle, then he’s in for a long night. I think I would easily TKO him if he wants to take it to the ground, and if he does wanna keep it on the feet, I think I knock him out as well ’cause he is not too crisp. Tell your friends that bet the house — if I’m fighting him, don’t go with this Magomed-in-their-last-name bullshit.
SD: Do you have a trash talk philosophy? Is there an Italian Gangster trash talk origin story?
DS: I just love trash-talking. I’ve been this way my whole life. You know, even in wrestling before matches, I would kind of try to sneak my way over to the guy that I’m about to wrestle against, maybe say something, nudge him, stare him up.
I really do believe in mental warfare. At the end of the day, when it’s hand-to-hand combat, a lot goes through the mind. You know, we’re not out there just throwing a ball; I want these guys realizing that I’m coming out there to fucking kill them, and that does something to the mind. When you got somebody across the cage from you or across the mat from you that is going in there with bad intentions, you start to think a little bit more. Let’s glove-touch, let’s hug, oh, everything’s gonna be nice. It’s a false sense of security. That’s just not who I am. That’s not my character. That’s not who I’ve ever been about.
I wanna make sure that these guys know that I fucking hate ’em. You know, I’m not going in there and I’m not gonna fight my friend. When these guys go in there and glove-touch and they show respect and they say that regardless, they’re friends, I just will never understand that. I don’t wanna fight my friends, I only wanna fight my enemies.
And No. 2, that shit’s so fun to me. I enjoy all of this. I’ve been saying this whole time, I love everything about fighting, and trash talk is a piece of fighting. Whether you like it or you don’t, that’s just how it is. When I know that I have a fight coming up, I look forward to two things: the trash talk and the fight. It’s who I always will be, and people are gonna fucking love it and people are gonna fucking hate it. I don’t give a shit. I’m always gonna be me. This isn’t fake. I think this is why it resonates with the fans with who I am and how I become a bigger name is because they see that this is exactly who I am. This isn’t some shtick. I’m not making shit up. I’ve always loved talking shit. I always have talked shit. I’m going to keep talking shit and people are just gonna have to deal with it.
SD: Is there another trash talker, whether it’s in MMA or other sports, that you admire for these same reasons?
DS: I like to think I’m unique. I like to be my own person. I don’t like to mimic anybody. At the end of the day, I’m trying to become the biggest fighter and biggest person in MMA. I want Danny Sabatello to only be about Danny Sabatello and not have people be reminded of anybody else.
With that being said, you do have to acknowledge the OG Chael Sonnen, who was very good at it, and obviously whether you like him or not, Conor McGregor has changed his sport forever with his trash talk. But I don’t think that I wanna remind people of them ’cause I’m doing my own thing. Just because we both talk shit or all three of us talk shit doesn’t mean we’re similar. You know, I do have different tactics and different rules with trash-talking — I’ll never go after a person’s family or their religion or their race or anything like that. I do have some ground rules.
SD: Last one — once that cage door locks behind you and Raufeon Stotts in the Bantamweight Grand Prix semifinal at Bellator 289, what happens next?
DS: Once that cage door locks and our names are getting announced, you’re gonna see a lot of nervous energy out of Stotts. He’s gonna be dancing around, he’s gonna be singing, he’s gonna want me to think and everybody in the crowd and watching on Showtime to think that he is very confident and that he’s very relaxed, but that’s gonna be a lot of nervous energy. I think he’s already starting to get a little bit nervous. I feel like I’m already in his head.
And then, once that bell rings, I am gonna be on him like a motherfucker. I am going in there to torture him. I’m going in there to get him fucking dog tired, bloody, and beat the shit out of him. I’m gonna torture this motherfucker and it’s gonna be very fun for me. It’s gonna be a fourth-round TKO and it’s gonna be probably the bloodiest fight of the year.
Danny Sabatello vs. Raufeon Stotts for the interim bantamweight championship headlines Bellator 289 Friday night, Dec. 9, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The main card begins at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime and features Liz Carmouche vs. Juliana Velasquez in the co-main event for the Bellator women’s flyweight title.
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