Alessio Sakara is the obvious name that springs to mind when thinking about the biggest Italian name signed to the Bellator roster. However, 24-year-old Stefano Paterno could well be the fighter with the most potential in the promotion from the country and is looking to make a statement at Bellator Milan this weekend.
Paterno (12-3-1) first began his MMA journey when his brother urged him to find a sport to dedicate himself to at the age of 14. That was when he found the ‘MMA Atletica Boxe’ gym where he still resides up to this day which is testament to how welcomed he was all of those years ago and to the quality of training he receives. He made his professional debut at just 17-years-old and build his record to 4-0 within one year of that fight. During the proceeding years, the two losses Paterno received on the Italian regional scene were immediately avenged and he defeated UFC veterans Cody McKenzie and John Maguire which earned him an immediate welterweight title shot in Cage Warriors.
He faced Mehrdad Janzemini for the vacant belt and knocked him out in the first round which announced himself in a major way on the European scene. Paterno’s first title defense happened three months later when he was challenged by Scottish standout, Ross Houston. It was an incredible fight that will go down as one of the best in the promotion’s history. Both men hurt each other during the contest and there were many captivating back and forth exchanges. Paterno lost by an extremely close split decision but in his opinion, he believes the judges got it wrong.
“I think my performance against Ross Houston was pretty good but I know I can do much better,” said Paterno. “Anyway, a lot of people thought that I won that fight and when I watched it again, I must say that I agree. However, after every bout I feel like a better fighter. That was my first five rounder and I fought more than one round with a broken hand. I learnt a lot from that fight.”
Paterno signed a Bellator contract during the summer as a result of his recent impressive performances and the promotion’s ambitious move into the European market. This weekend’s show will be Bellator’s seventh in Italy but their first ever show in the city of Milan. It is one of the main countries on the continent the company have their focus on and Paterno believes that Bellator are key to the sport’s growth in the region.
“The state of MMA in Italy today is like fertile soil,” discussed Paterno. “We are currently building the right environment so that it can grow and flourish. Bellator are really helping to facilitate this aim and will massively help to elevate the sport to the next level.”
He was originally scheduled to make his Bellator debut against Galore Bofando but the UFC veteran withdrew around a month before the bout was due to take place because of an injury. Another Englishman stepped up to replace him as Ashley Reece (8-1) will make the trip into hostile territory and fill in the co-main event slot. Reece is a gritty grappler who mostly looks to tie up his opponents and control them on the ground so is a totally different style of opponent when compared to the flashy striking skills of Bofando. The Italian and his team had to change up the gameplan but that hasn’t been a problem for them as they know that they have to be ready for all types of opponent. Reece will be looking to go 3-0 in Bellator come fight night but Paterno is looking forward to the chance of handing him his first promotional defeat.
“Ashley Reece is a tough guy and I’m really excited to fight against him,” stated Paterno. “My only plan is to fight and win. I predict that it will be a great battle. I have just signed with Bellator and I have many ideas about what I would like to do in the promotion but I don’t want to speak about those yet. For me, it is about going in there and introducing myself to the Bellator fans with a victory.”
Bellator Milan: Manhoef v Bahati will air live at 10pm BST on Channel 5 in the UK and on the Bellator Mobile App in the US at 5pmET/4pmC.