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UFC Fight Night 210's Pat Sabatini has clear mission to the top: 'I want to be a world champion'

Already 4-0 in the octagon, UFC featherweight is determined to outwork the competition on his way to the top of the division.
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As the madness surrounding the last-minute shuffling of the UFC 279 card last weekend was at its height, a thought came to my head as I dialed Pat Sabatini's number:

We will likely never see the Philadelphian in a situation where he's getting involved in backstage altercations, trash talking on social media or missing weight.

I tell him this and he laughs.

"You never know what life's gonna present and what the future's gonna hold, but I always try my best to be as professional as possible and do everything I need to do," said the rising featherweight star, who faces Damon Jackson (21-4-1 MMA, 4-1-1 UFC) this Saturday in Las Vegas.

In a lot of ways, he reminds you of someone just up the turnpike in former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Sabatini (17-3 MMA, 4-0 UFC) is no nonsense, a 100 percent pro, and when it's time to fight, he can do that better than most. And one more thing, he's one of those competitors who would be just fine if you paid him to take on the best fighters in the world in a giant warehouse with no one watching.

"One thousand percent," he said. "I'm in this for what happens in the cage. All the other stuff comes with the territory."

All the "other stuff" consists of things that have nothing to do with fight night. I remind him of something veteran tough guy Josh Neer once told me, that some fighters like signing autographs more than the fight. Sabatini doesn't disagree, but as a pro, he does what's asked of him and doesn't complain about it because he knew that this is part of the gig at this level of the game.

"Eventually, I knew that the media and all that stuff would get involved," he said. "It is what it is – you gotta just embrace it, it's part of it, but when it gets down to it, I'm all about what happens in the cage on fight night."

That attitude has led him to a 17-3 record that includes a perfect 4-0 UFC slate. That's not easy to pull off in the featherweight division, but as he rose up the ranks of the regional scene, he prepared himself for what was to come – not by looking too far ahead, but by taking care of the business right in front of him.

"I've always taken it one step at a time and never looked too far into the future, and I feel like that's something that helped me a lot," Sabatini said. "Taking one thing at a time, focusing only on the task at hand."

Ultimately, he got the call – a short notice one – to replace Mike Trizano against Rafael Alves in February of 2021. He accepted the fight, and on a week's notice, hit his mark at 145.5 pounds. Alves came in 11.5 pounds over – a UFC record – for the featherweight bout. There would be no UFC debut for Sabatini.

"It was a trial by fire," he said. "You gotta cut all this weight, do all this media stuff, and the fight didn't happen because my opponent missed weight. But that week right there, I got to see that this is what dealing with the media's like while cutting weight, I gotta deal with this and that, and let me tell you, that's a week I will never forget for the rest of my life. And I felt like that helped me prepare moving forward as far as just the process goes."

So what was dinner like that night after he found out he wasn't fighting?

"It starts out with a big smorgasbord of sushi," Sabatini laughs. "I love sushi. And then later on, I get into the dessert, like some ice cream and stuff. Yeah, I ate a lot that night."

See, he is human, but on fight night, the 31-year-old has been a well-oiled machine, representing the Daniel Gracie/John Marquez squad with a ground attack that none of his opponents have been able to decipher. Yet after his octagon wins over Tristan Connelly, Jamall Emmers, Tucker Lutz and T.J. Laramie, is this week's foe, Jackson, the one to do it? Sabatini isn't one to pay too much attention to the name of the man across from him in the octagon, but he does know what "Action" Jackson brings to the table, and he's looking forward to seeing what transpires at the UFC Apex.

"The name doesn't matter," he said. "I'm always very excited to get out there and compete on the biggest stage in the world, but I feel like the tougher the opponent, the better I perform."

So we're going to see the best Pat Sabatini yet?

"Let's do it," he laughs, showing that yeah, he's not always the most serious man in mixed martial arts.

"I'm actually not that serious," Sabatini said. "But I definitely get serious when it comes to the competition. I'm on a mission, and I'll be happy once that mission's done."

Does he care to share that mission?

"I want to be a world champion."

This story first published at UFC.com.