Santo Curatolo knew the day would eventually come.
While Curatolo earned four-straight finishes in the CFFC flyweight division since turning professional in August 2017, teammate Sean Santella captured the CFFC flyweight title on two separate occasions.
With both being at the top of the flyweight division in 2019, Santella made a difficult situation easy for Curatolo.
“He [Santella] said, ‘When the time comes buddy, if I don’t go to the UFC, then I’ll give up the belt to you because by that time if I’m not in the UFC, I don’t want to slow down your career,’” Curatolo said.
“He said he wants to see me do well, he wants to see me go to the top.”
“I’m lucky to have him”
Not only did Santella vacate the belt for his Nick Catone’s MMA Academy teammate, but he helped Curatolo earn a title shot.
Curatolo was scheduled to fight James Mancini for the vacant strap at CFFC 82 in Atlantic City, New Jersey on March 21. The event was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The 25-year-old rattled off three-consecutive knockout/TKO wins. With four first-round finishes, Curatolo spent a total of 11 minutes inside the CFFC cage.
Curatolo displayed another side of his game in his last outing. With Santella in his corner, Curatolo earned his first-career submission win against Aleczander Castillhos at CFFC 79 in November 2019.
“Sean Santella, let me tell you, that dude, his jiu-jitsu has taken me to a whole other level,” Curatolo said. “Even the way he just explains things, he breaks it down and puts it into words for you. He has helped me so much that honestly, I’m so lucky to have him to train with. I’m lucky enough to train with the CFFC champ already.”
Choosing a path
Santella’s relationship with the CFFC is a long one. He fought 14 times for the promotion throughout nine years.
Santella made his CFFC debut in October 2011, losing a unanimous decision to current-UFC bantamweight Aljamain Sterling. Santella then dropped from bantamweight to flyweight, winning the title and defending it five-straight times. The streak came to an end with a unanimous decision to Nick Honstein at CFFC 34 in April 2014.
In and out of other regional promotions, Santella went on to win and lose the CFFC belt again. He eventually regained the strap with a unanimous decision win against the previously-unbeaten prospect Andre Barquero Morera at CFFC 76 in June 2019.
After defending his belt with a unanimous decision against Blaine Shutt at CFFC 78 in September 2019, Santella entered a standstill with the CFFC.
Not wanting to hold up the division, Santella parted ways with the promotion. He is open to fighting prospects like Mancini, but said a bout was never offered.
Losing the CFFC flyweight title for the third time is not because of defeat. It’s a choice of his own.
“I would never hold up one of my teammates’ careers. It was more about the CFFC,” Santella said. “It came to a point where we all felt there was nothing left for me to do for CFFC.”
From the corner
Santella has one of the best views in the house when cornering Curatolo. The former CFFC champion has made the walk with Curatolo to the cage on both the amateur and professional circuits.
“I definitely see a lot of talent, I think he is more well-rounded than I ever was, having a higher pedigree in wrestling, better boxing and stuff like that,” Santella said. “He’s going to do well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the UFC after his next win.”
Curatolo is waiting out the pandemic for his chance to win the belt. With a goal of becoming the UFC flyweight champion, winning the CFFC belt is part of the journey.
The coronavirus pandemic is putting Curatolo’s career on hold as many regional promotions are waiting to resume business. It’s an unpredictable event, but Curatolo’s career is currently where he and Santella expected it to be.
“I’m also a contender and I’m going to be fighting for the championship,” Curatolo said. “It doesn’t surprise me because of who I’ve been trained by.”