Pat Sabatini, 31, is starting to enter his MMA prime. The Philadelphia wrestler is undefeated in the UFC with three decision wins and a submission, but his perfect record does not connote perfect fighting. He’s struggled at times with decision-making.
The always dangerous Damon “The Leech” Jackson, 34, has made a career on capitalizing on mistakes. He is 4-1 in the UFC with two submissions, and two decision wins. His sole loss was a first-round knockout in 202o.
Sabatini vs. Jackson is one of the preliminary fights on this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 210 card. Subscribe to ESPN+ to watch every UFC fight live.
With money coming in on Jackson, Sabatini opened as a slightly larger favorite than his current odds.
Sabatini trains out of a gym with a famous name but not many famous fighters – Renzo Gracie Philly. As with many of his teammates, one of which, Joey Pyfer, we’ll also see Saturday night, Sabatini is what some call a “Philadelphia wrestler.” Most fighters out of Renzo Gracie Philly all have the same “Philadelphia wrestler” moniker because of their similar style- wrestle, wrestle, and more wrestle until a decision win or finish. Consistency in MMA is rarer than other sports because fighters often tailor their approach to their opponent. For the fighters out of this gym, Sabatini notwithstanding, the game plan rarely changes, and it often works. Sabatini, specifically, is a talented and fundamental wrestler who times his shots well after creating openings on the feet.
His striking is basic and rigid but functional in the sense that he can land enough shots to raise his opponent’s guard and eyesight, leaving his hips exposed. Once Sabatini sees exposed hips, he explodes for a takedown, often a single or double leg, and, more often than not, completes the attempt. On the occasions where his opponent stuffs the shot, Sabatini is intelligent enough to pull off, so not to risk his neck being snatched, and reset. When he gets the fight to the mat, that’s where Sabatini really shines. He has impressive jiu-jitsu from top position and is able to transition from position to position without allowing his opponent an opening to get back up. His top pressure, specifically when chest to chest on the mat, is unyielding, and his submission arsenal is varied.
Despite being 4-0, Sabatini has shown a few concerns in the cage. First being his cardio, early in his UFC tenure Sabatini struggled to maintain pressure and effectiveness in round 3. In his debut, despite dominating for 2 rounds, Sabatini dropped the 3rd round completely. In his more recent fights Sabatini has managed his gas tank better. The other early issue for Sabatini was his defensive striking. He kept his head on the center line and moved slowly, making him an easy target. Again, though, his more recent fights have shown progress in both areas- head movement and footwork. Each time out, Sabatini has shown the growth you want to see from a young fighter while still implementing his impressive wrestling and grappling game plan.
Jackson is a dog, through and through. The man does not have an off switch in the cage, and unless he gets finished, Jackson will keep coming and coming, fighting and fighting, and trying and trying to win until the final seconds of the match. Jackson is typically a ground-centric fighter, finishing 15 of his 21 wins by submission. His jiu-jitsu is solid from top or bottom position, but he excels when he can take his opponent’s back and look for a choke. Whether Jackson is the one initiating the takedown or getting taken down himself, he’s just happy to be grappling.
His wrestling chops are solid, but against fighters with solid takedown defense or other wrestlers, Jackson struggles to land his shots. In fights against similar or better wrestlers, like this fight against Sabatini, Jackson tends to strike wildly on the feet, looking for a club and sub; or, if he swings and hits air, he’s happy to invite a takedown. Once down, Jackson weaponizes his cardio and never stops pivoting, shrimping, or sprawling. He is in constant motion on the mat looking for a reversal or defensive submission.
The issues Jackson has faced have come against skilled strikers and intelligent wrestlers who have a high-level understanding of jiu-jitsu. These wrestlers are able to hold Jackson down, rack up control time, and not fall into one of the traps he sets. Because of his cardio, though, fighters who want to wrestle Jackson for 15 minutes are typically in for a long 15 minutes.
This fight comes down to one singular but important question that has clouded Sabatini’s game – as the fight goes on and he gets tired, does he have the mental and physical strength to finish a fight confidently and safely, or is he someone, like many others, always in danger of making the vital mistake? Many fighters succumb to the fatal mistake, and their careers are plagued by moments of “almost.”
So far, we’ve seen a Sabatini falls into that infamous category, and we’ve seen a Sabatini who can withstand a dangerous opponent for 15 minutes. Jackson is the perfect test for Sabatini because he has the cardio and hail mary submissions to never be completely out of a fight. I’m betting on Sabatini’s growth and have confidence that growth will get him passed the mental and physical test to finish the fight without a vital mistake.
Pick: Pat Sabatini to win (-190 odds at BetUS)