Everyone has a different approach to their craft — a preferred manner of preparing that allows them to be at their best when the moment they need to perform arises.
Some athletes take a comparable approach to their method-acting contemporaries, getting up to their necks in studying their opponent, immersing themselves in the emotion, energy, and maybe even animosity of the impending clash because that is what works best for them. Each matchup consumes them, and in the months, weeks, days leading up to a fight, the only thing they’re really thinking about is stepping into the Octagon and going to battle.
That used to be the approach Pat Sabatini took as well, but the Philadelphia native changed things up prior to his last outing, opting instead to operate from the other end of the spectrum.
“I definitely feel even more disconnected than the last time; my head is in a really good spot,” Sabatini said on Wednesday morning, reflecting on his change in approach just a couple days prior to stepping into the Octagon against Diego Lopes in the opening bout of the UFC 295 pay-per-view main card at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
“I think it’s super-important that this fight and moving forward, I have to make fight week fun; as less stressful as possible. I feel like I’ve had all these fights, but not until these last two fight weeks am I taking in the moment, enjoying the scenery, getting out and walking around more; doing stuff and appreciating everything I have.
“(I’m finally) living and taking in the moment, not worrying about the weight cut or the fight,” he added. “Making sure I have a good mental balance so that when fight night comes, I’m ready to put on.”
Ahead of his fight with Lucas Almeida at the UFC APEX in June, that meant posting up in an Air BNB with his coaches, exploring Red Rocks Canyon and playing Monopoly in the evenings. Switching up the fight week approach coincided with adjusting the way he cut weight as well, and the tandem changes helped produce Sabatini’s best performance to date.
Returning after suffering his first loss inside the Octagon nine months earlier, Sabatini tore through his Brazilian opponent, exhibiting not only the standout grappling he’s become known for throughout his first five UFC appearances, but a greater sense of urgency and more ferocity, as well. Where he previously seemed content to methodically work to advance positions and search for submissions, the 32-year-old shifted to raining down elbows and busting up Almeida, using the punishment and threat of more to follow to create the opportunity for him to sink in a deep arm triangle choke and secure the finish.
For Sabatini, disconnecting in the time when he’s not in the gym has allowed him to be more attentive when he is there, and tap into the more aggressive, animalistic side when he finally steps through the gate and into the UFC Octagon.
“Ever since I was a kid, people would tell me about balance and the importance of balance, and I feel like when I was too zoned in, over-training, there is a big imbalance, and I left a lot of the fights that I had in the gym or other places just by not mentally and physically disconnecting,” explained the featherweight standout, who trains alongside the likes of Sean Brady, Andre Petroski, and Joe Pyfer under the guidance of Jonavin Webb, Erik Purcell, and John Marquez in “The City of Brotherly Love.”
“I feel like I’m better when I’m disconnecting and reconnecting — more refreshed, more myself out there. I found that with disconnecting, when it comes time to get to training, get to the fight, you feel so much better, more refreshed, and the passion increases; you love it more because you miss it.
“I think Mike Tyson said, ‘There is nothing more dangerous than a happy fighter,’” he said with a laugh, accurately quoting the former heavyweight champion. “I want to save all my fight for the actual fight. Training has to be at a certain intensity, but any chance I can get to disconnect, unwind, get my mind somewhere else — I know everybody’s mind and body work different, but when I can do that, you can guarantee you’ll see a more ferocious side of me in there.”
If his performance against Almeida is indeed the launch of a new, more menacing version of Pat Sabatini, the featherweight division just got even more interesting because the former CFFC champion had already been impressive thus far.
Although his loss to Damon Jackson last September halted his four-fight UFC winning streak and forced him to take a small step back, going 4-1 out of the chute in one of the more competitive weight classes in the UFC is outstanding, and his dominant showing earlier this year got him moving in the right direction once again.
While he didn’t get his wish to face a ranked opponent this weekend, squaring off with Lopes in the opening bout of the pay-per-view feels like the next best thing, as the Brazilian has been one of the top breakout fighters of 2023.
“Whoever they put in front of me, I’m going to say ‘yes’ to, but I like the matchup,” Sabatini said of facing Lopes, who debuted with a short-notice loss to unbeaten Russian standout Movsar Evloev and followed it up with a first-round submission win over Gavin Tucker. “I feel like I match up very well against him, and I’m going to be able to exploit him.
“I’ve been doing jiu jitsu for a very long time, have competed at a very high level in jiu jitsu, so his style is a very familiar look for me,” continued Sabatini, who earned his black belt from Daniel Gracie. “I feel like a lot of his past opponents, it was a very unfamiliar look for them, and I feel like that is where he catches a lot of people.
“But I think I’ve got what it takes to shut that game down.”
For the reserved featherweight, the shift in fight week approach has prompted a great deal of reflection and introspection, which have allowed him to spend more time reflecting on his journey, rather than being exclusively focused on the future.
And in recognizing how far he’s come, Sabatini is now ready to really start making a push towards where he wants to be.
“I was thinking about this last night: it’s crazy how far I’ve come already,” offered the 22-fight veteran, who is less than four years removed from an arm injury that had him seriously contemplating retirement. “It’s amazing. I’m very grateful and blessed.
“Every fight is a big deal, but, at the same time, whether it’s in front of a crowd or not, it’s just me and the opponent in there, and you better believe I have tunnel vision in there,” he added. “I feel great, and I can’t wait to get in there.”
UFC 295: Procházka vs Pereira took place live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 11, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!