Mario Bautista had the best holiday season ever in 2022.
Think about it, the bantamweight up and comer extended his winning streak to three with a submission victory over Benito Lopez on November 5, picked up a Performance of the Night bonus in the process, and then got to be like the rest of us at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“I didn't have to train, got to eat at Thanksgiving and had a nice little bonus at the end of the year,” laughed Bautista, who insists that he will not be weighing in at the middleweight limit on Friday for his Saturday bout against Guido Cannetti.
Instead, he’ll be hitting his mark then looking to make it four straight against an opponent he was supposed to meet back in August of 2021. Then, a bout with COVID-19 kept Bautista from bouncing back from his loss to Trevin Jones five months earlier, and he wouldn’t be back in the Octagon until February of last year.
And what a year it was for the Arizonan, who reeled off victories over Jay Perrin, Brian Kelleher and Lopez, putting him perilously close to the Top 15 at 135 pounds. And while he was a bit surprised to get Cannetti again, the veteran from Argentina has won two in a row, both ending in the first round, and he’s got every bit of Bautista’s attention.
“I think I've always had the mentality that if I'm fighting, I'm going to train the same way,” Bautista said. “If I fought someone that was 0-4 or 20-0, I'm still going to train the same way and as hard as I can, because, for me, it's not about the guy; I'm trying to beat myself in camp every day, beating the person I was yesterday. That's my mentality. And I also have my coaches telling me how dangerous Guido can be. He throws hard leg kicks, and I think these guys like (Kris) Moutinho and (Randy) Costa really underestimated him and he got those first-round finishes, so the coaches are keeping that in my head. This guy is dangerous, he hits hard, and his best chance is to knock me out. So that's what he's going to try to do, I have to be ready for that intensity, and I know it's going to be a tough first round. So I'm not looking past Cannetti at all. I'm taking him very seriously.”
So seriously that as much as he wants to end the fight as soon as possible and add to his 73% finishing rate, he knows that Argentinean fighters are revered for their toughness and willingness to go into deep waters, and that a three-round war might be possible this weekend. Possible, but not probable.
“I'm always trying to get it them out of there in the first round,” Bautista said. “But you have to find the right dance partner (for a three-round war). And honestly, the only person that's kind of done that with me was Jinsoo Son. We got Fight of the Night and, honestly, it was pretty fun. I always think about that fight; it was pretty memorable for me. But to be honest with you, Cannetti might have the heart to go on, but I think there are a lot of factors playing against him as far as youth and my conditioning; I take it very seriously. So if he wants to get into that type of fight, I don't think he's going to be on the good side of that kind of fight.”
That quiet confidence has led Bautista to a 5-2 Octagon slate, and as the finishes and bonuses pile up, he can’t be ignored. Just don’t expect him to be the one telling the world about it or getting into trash talk wars with his opponents.
“No, I'm going to have to stay true to myself in the sense that I'm not going to be the instigator,” he laughs.
“If someone opens up that door for me, I will have fun with it. I know I will. And that's the kind of thing I love. I don't like instigating, but if you start something, I'll finish it.”