‘I’m the No. 1 guy’: Patchy Mix knows he’s the best bantamweight in MMA

Patchy Mix is not shy about telling you he’s the greatest bantamweight fighter in all of mixed martial arts. He fits it into a conversation repeatedly, saying it as matter of factly as one can speak such a superlative.

At the same time, Mix cannot ignore that widespread recognition of him as the game’s best 135-pounder is lagging. And yet he’s undaunted by what some might consider a snub. He insists that just three things stand between him and the shiniest of accolades.

The three things: U, F and C.

“Those three letters are what gets other guys ranked above me,” said Mix, who does not fight in the UFC, of course, but is instead the champion in Bellator MMA. He will defend his belt for the first time Friday in Paris, meeting Magomed Magomedov in the main event of the year’s second Bellator Champions Series fight card.

Mix, No. 6 in ESPN’s bantamweight rankings, is just fine being at the top of the Bellator food chain, secure enough with his place in the sport that he feels no need to disparage the UFC or its deep, talented array of bantamweights — competition that he does not currently have an opportunity to face. He actually speaks highly of the skills of champion Sean O’Malley as well as contenders Merab Dvalishvili, Cory Sandhagen, Petr Yan and others. But Mix is taking a back seat to nobody.

“Much respect to those guys,” he said, “but if you look at all of us, skill set for skill set, I’m the No. 1 guy.”

That skill set of Mix’s has produced 15 finishes among his 19 victories. One of them came against Magomedov when they first met in December 2022 in the Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix, a tournament that Mix went on to win to earn his title shot. After becoming the only fighter to finish Magomedov, submitting him in a semifinal with a guillotine choke, Mix knocked out Raufeon Stots with a flying knee in the final the following April, then became champion with a rear-naked choke of Sergio Pettis in November. The two submissions during that stretch give Mix 13 for his career.

“I’m 19-1 and I’ve got the most finishes of everyone,” he said. “I’m the most dominant.”

And when Mix said “the most finishes of anyone,” he was not speaking a vague generalization. He did the research. The leader in finishes among active UFC bantams is Marlon “Chito” Vera, with 10. Mix added, “And he’s got, like, 10 losses, too.”

Actually, it’s nine, but who’s counting?

This guy is. Mix views many of his accomplishments through a UFC-tinted lens, pointing out, for instance, that his opponent this week, Magomedov (20-3), owns a win over Yan, a former UFC champ. Mix himself defeated onetime UFC title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi and finished Andre Ewell, who during his UFC run had wins over ex-champ Renan Barao and Jonathan Martinez, who fought all-time great Jose Aldo earlier this month at UFC 301. On and on go the octagonal self-measurements.

Mix is far from the first fighter from outside the UFC to play the MMA math game’s self-justifying home version. Bellator middleweight champ Johnny Eblen is the most recent to gain traction among fans and pundits as possibly the best of anyone at his weight. But he doesn’t draw anywhere near as much attention as the top 185-pound fighters in the UFC.

It reminds of a time when there were Bellator belts around the waists of Ben Askren, Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler, and they all had a degree of fan support boosting them toward the top of the mountain. For every one of them, though, recognition was truly ramped up only after they made it to the UFC.

Mix, 30 years old and a pro fighter for eight years, has seen many athletes try to attract the spotlight while inside a cage not shaped like an octagon. Now that he’s living that quest himself, he takes it in stride.

“Since I don’t have those three letters in front of me, I feel like it’s a lot harder for me to earn my respect,” Mix said. “But it always seems right there waiting for me.”

As an example, Mix cites his title-winning submission of Pettis, who was coming off a victory over featherweight champ Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, the most accomplished fighter in Bellator history. So, the way Mix sees it, he finished “the guy who beat up Patricio, who’s the guy that knocked out Chandler.” He paused a beat to let the near-miss star-power rub of that sink in, then added, “And people would’ve been putting respect on my name.”

Some already do.

“I think Patchy is top three,” said Eric Nicksick, head coach at Xtreme Couture MMA, where Mix trains. “And I can argue that he’s not No. 2 or 3.”

That’s a bold statement coming from a coach at the Las Vegas gym that Dvalishvili, possibly the next UFC bantamweight title challenger, and former champ Aljamain Sterling also call home.

“You should see them all competing against each other in the gym, how they make each other better,” Nicksick said. “In Patchy’s case, when he’s testing his skills against Aljamain or Merab, which he does all the time, he’s measuring himself against the best guys in the world. I think he has a pretty good idea of where he stands, and that builds his confidence.”

Where Mix might lack confidence nowadays is in predicting the future. If he ever thought that superpower was within his skill set, he learned otherwise last fall. Three days after Mix won his championship, news broke that Bellator had been bought by the PFL. Everything he’d worked for to reach the top and set up his future suddenly was up in the air. For all Mix knew, he might have just reached his greatest glory at the same time as Bellator was shutting down.

As things played out, Bellator lived to fight another day. But Mix nonetheless weighed his options. Because the PFL’s season format does not include a bantamweight division, he considered bulking up 10 pounds to compete as a PFL featherweight.

“But if I’m going to move up to 145, it’s not going to be for a season,” Mix said. “It’s going to be for superfights. It’s going to be champ versus champ, big fights.”

Ultimately, Mix opted to defend his belt in Bellator, even if the whole operation felt a bit tenuous to him. “We don’t know how long Bellator is going to be around for. We don’t know if it will eventually be sucked up by the PFL. We just don’t know,” Mix said. “So I am keeping my focus on what I can control, and that means just winning and winning and winning.”

Nicksick couldn’t draw up a more prosperous game plan. “Patchy is still a bit under the radar,” the coach acknowledged, “because he’s quiet, not a big talker. But you watch him fight, and all he wants to do is f— somebody up.

“So last time I spoke with him about his career, I told him to just keep doing what he’s doing. I was like, ‘Go reel off some more wins, finishing fights like you have.’ If Patchy continues to do that, no one’s going to be able to deny him.”

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