Stefano Paternò (L) (Paternò Management)

OKTAGON 51’s Stefano Paternò: Hunting for a Spot in the UFC

“Very aggressive, highly versatile… it’s a magnificent revelation. Anyone who thought that MMA in Italy was only Alessio Sakara now knows that there is a renewal”.

In this manner, Mario Filho from Fox Sport Brasil commented on Stefano Paternò’s victory over Ashley Reece at Bellator 230 on Oct. 12, 2019. After that match, all the insiders and fans in Italy expected his entry into the UFC shortly, but it didn’t happen, despite the many successes he had already achieved. The 28-year-old fighter, based out of MMA Atletica Boxe Milan, has been a professional welterweight since 2012, when he was only 16, and holds a record of 15-4-1 with nine knockouts, three submissions and is on a two-fight winning streak.

In 2017, at the age of 22, Paternò won the Venator FC welterweight championship tournament, defeating four fighters in a row. First, it was the future Bellator and OKTAGON fighter Andrea Fusi by submission. Then he took out the future ICF champion – who also fought in Bellator, Cage Warriors, Babilon MMA and AFL – Alessandro Botti by doctor’s stoppage. He followed that up with a knockout of former Bellator and future UFC fighter Danilo Belluardo. In the final bout, he was able to knock out the The Ultimate Fighter 12 winner and former UFC, M-1 and WSOF fighter Cody McKenzie in the first round.


Before he turned 23,, Paternò also managed to win the IFC title, defeating the former UFC, Cage Warriors, Cage Rage, BAMMA, UCMMA, KSW, and ACB veteran John Maguire. Then, in his promotional debut, he captured the Cage Warriors belt by first-round knockout against former ACB and UCMMA fighter Mehrdad Janzemini. In Oct. 2018, he lost the title in a highly contested split decision against the undefeated Ross Houston, despite fighting the last two rounds with a broken right hand. In 2019, he made his Bellator debut with the victory over the Bellator and ACB veteran Ashley Reece.

In 2020, despite a cervical spine injury, Paternò faced the more experienced Ion Pascu at Bellator Euro Series 8 and lost by points, still coming close to victory through submission. After a long hiatus due to COVID, he returned to action in 2022, winning the Venator FC belt twice, first against Michelangelo Colangelo and then against Germany’s Kevin Hangs.

On Friday, Dec. 29, Paternò, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt, will return to action at OKTAGON 51 at the O2 Arena in Prague against Moldovan fighter Ion “Dracul” Surdu (14-5, 11 finishes). We interviewed him to ask what he expects from this match and, more importantly, why the long-awaited call from the UFC has not yet come.

“I always wonder why the call from the UFC has never come,” Paternò responded. “Especially considering that athletes who have definitely achieved fewer victories than me have entered that promotion. I thought they would have called me right after winning the Cage Warriors title, but it didn’t happen. However, from another perspective, maybe it’s been for the better. Now, I’m definitely much more mature than when I was 22. On Friday, I want to win, prove my worth to everyone, and finally get that call. Since I started fighting, that’s been my sole focus.”

Many were surprised when you left Bellator to return to fighting in Italian promotions, and then you remained inactive for over a year. The usual haters also made malicious comments about these choices. Could you clarify what happened?

“I chose to leave Bellator to compete in events on UFC Fight Pass, believing that it would increase our chances of being noticed by Dana White’s promotion. However, in the past year, we experienced unfulfilled promises from a management team that cost me a year when I was fully prepared to fight. Now, with a new management team, they quickly secured this match for me, which could be a great stepping stone.”

Surdu is ranked No. 3. If you win, do you think you will be fighting for the OKTAGON belt?

“It’s possible, but I requested and obtained the ability to sign a contract for a single match specifically to be free in case of a call from the UFC or the Dana White’s Contender Seried. I had offers from other major promotions as well, but all of them wanted a contract for a series of fights. OKTAGON was the only one among the significant organizations to grant me this freedom and allow me to fight immediately.”

Indeed, the match was announced only at the beginning of December. When was it proposed to you?

“Just a few days before the official announcement, let’s say a month before the match. But, it was me who asked for it, because I was already in shape and on weight. I just accelerated the pace. In terms of weight loss, I cut only 6 kilograms (approximately 13 pounds). I prefer it this way because I can stay in better shape, and I don’t have any issues maintaining an excellent percentage of body fat at my total weight.”  

What do you know about Surdu? Do you feel confident about winning this match?

“You can never be sure of winning a match, but I am very determined and calm. I have no anxiety. I know what is publicly known about him. He’s a striker (10 career KOs), has also fought professionally in kickboxing, is experienced (he already fought in KSW, UAE Warriors, BRAVE CF and Eagles FC) and can use wrestling when needed to take you down and keep you there. He’s my age, 5 centimeters taller (about 2 inches) and unlike me, he cuts a lot of weight, so he will be significantly heavier in the cage. But, as I said, I have no anxiety.”

Reflecting on your career, what have been the most significant and challenging moments?

“The most significant match was definitely the 5-round bout against Houston at Cage Warriors because it gave me the confidence that I was ready for a title fight lasting 5 rounds. Additionally, he tried to intimidate me with trash-talking, but I saw that it doesn’t work on me.

The biggest mistake, on the other hand, was fighting against Pascu at Bellator with a cervical spine injury. I should have informed Bellator and undergone the necessary examinations, but I didn’t even tell my coach. I thought the adrenaline of the match would be enough to overcome the physical issue, but it wasn’t the case. I couldn’t move the way I wanted to.”

Compared to when you started 12 years ago, what has changed in Italian MMA scene?

“Now MMA are more widely known here and the average technical level has increased. However, in terms of audience results, they are lacking and not reaching their full potential. It’s a combination of things that are not working. In my humble opinion, I believe that MMA is poorly communicated in my country. There are no media covering them effectively. We lack athletes who can engage the Italian audience, and there’s a shortage of major events in Italy.”