Sean Santella on vacating title: ‘I didn’t feel like I had a choice’
Sean Santella is highly regarded as one of the top flyweight fighters in the US outside of the UFC. For the first time in quite some time, “Shorty Rock” is officially a free agent as he looks to stay active in competition.
Earlier this week, via a press release from CFFC, it was revealed that Santella was vacating the organization’s flyweight title. The release stated that it was mutual decision between Santella and CFFC to vacate the title “in hopes of allowing fresh talent an opportunity to secure championship bouts while pursuing their dreams of fighting in the sport’s biggest promotions.”
Santella regained the CFFC 125-pound title at CFFC 76 in June when he defeated Andre Barquero Morera via unanimous decision. The 35-year-old would successfully defend the title three months later against Blaine Shutt at CFFC 78.
On Friday, MyMMANews.com spoke to Santella about vacating the title from his perspective. Although he is quite appreciative that the promotion helped build his resume over his 14-fight stint, Santella feels that the promotion could’ve done more to give him opportunities to stay active. Since one of the next title challengers is a teammate — and that wouldn’t happen — Santella had to weigh his options.
“It definitely was a mutual thing, but it was more or less an issue because of me not being able to get a fight,” Santella told MyMMANews.com.
“I was kind of at a standstill with me either going up to 135, which I have other teammates from my gym at 35, or trying to move on and go from there. My last fight was in September and I want to fight as much as possible. If I could fight every other month I would. To be fighting once every six or seven months, I’m not OK with it. We sat down and we talked, and we came up with that there’s nothing much left for me. I know that CFFC being a local promotion, they’re going to have a salary cap, or a purse cap, but we’re probably at that point.”
One of the issues that Santella saw is the ticket selling aspect. On regional shows, selling tickets is a big part of the game no matter what promotion you fight for. With having 14 fights in the promotion over the years, Santella was hoping to get a big of leeway in that aspect because, as we get older, things change.
“How the local promotions work with pay, you sell tickets, they offer you a purse and that’s how it evens out to make everybody happy,” Santella explained. “Eventually, I’m not gonna be able to sell so many tickets to match my purse and I’m constantly going to get hit with a deduction every time I fight. With every win, your purse goes up a little bit, but also your ticket minimum goes up a little bit. So if you don’t sell more tickets than your last fight, then you actually get hit with a deduction for winning your previous fight. So it’s almost like you’re being penalized for winning your fights.
“With how long I’ve been doing this, I’m eventually only going to be able to sell so many tickets. I don’t have the same following as a 20-something year old that’s either in college, or still out partying. Most of my friends are married, they have kids, they moved and stuff like that. It’s hard to keep up with those ticket sales for my purse to be what I respectably should earn. Just because of the lack of finding me a fight and, I guess, people turning me down, it becomes an issue of do I move on and try to promote myself and try to get in a different promotion? Or do I stay with CFFC and probably sit on the shelf and hopefully, maybe someone will come along and try to take a fight? So it was kind of mutual but I felt like I had no other option.”
After the press release went public, many people began congratulating Santella — whether it was because they believed a bigger opportunity was coming, or that he vacated the title for others to have their shot. “Shorty Rock” doesn’t understand why he’s getting the praise he’s receiving since he no longer has a promotion to fight for at the moment.
“I’m getting a lot of people saying congratulations to me because of the [press release], but I don’t know what I’m being congratulated for as I kind of look at it, I just left my job. I don’t have a job. When you leave your promotion, they’re your employer. So I’m unemployed.
“There’s only a handful of promotions out there that will be able to pay me, somewhat, what I deserve on top of trying to pay someone to come in. So I’m kind of at standstill of not knowing what’s next. It is what it is, it sucks at the same time. I wish I could stay and fight at CFFC as much as possible until I got a bigger call, I just didn’t think I was going to happen. The last two fights I fought for them was at Parx Casino, which had zero marketability and it hurt me with ticket sales because they have an age minimum. You’ve got to be 21 to get in there. I train parents that have kids, like families, so I lost thousands of dollars on ticket sales fighting at the Parx and there was no real coverage. Yeah, it’s on UFC [Fight Pass], but there wasn’t much coverage. One time you’re fighting at 2:00 because of the UFC, and a Fight Pass issue. The other time we lost the main event, so that kind of hit it off too.”
While it remains to be seen where Santella will ultimately end up as he looks to get an opportunity with the UFC, or another major promotion, Santella understands where CFFC is coming from. At the same time, he feels like the promotion could’ve done more to keep him around and that he wasn’t left with any other option but to vacate.
“I felt like they could’ve done a lot better as far as promoting, or sticking me on a better card at, say, the Hard Rock,” Santella said. “I just thought maybe that would have a better opportunity because, frankly, the all-pro shows get better coverage. That’s the bottom line. It sucks. Was it mutual? Yeah. But in the same sense, I didn’t really feel like I had a choice. CFFC said they could always bring me back for a super fight, which I guess I would have to bump up to 30, or 35, since it would make much sense coming back at 25 and fighting a super fight when I had to vacate my belt. I don’t know, it sucks.”
In the conversation, Santella talks about what else the promotion could’ve done to keep him around as champion, agreeing to compete for other promotions before the fights either fell through, or the talks stopped progressing, why he feels he hasn’t gotten that call to the UFC and much more.
MyMMANews.com reached out to CFFC for comment regarding Santella’s comments.
“We released a press release on the matter. We are not going to comment further,” says a CFFC representative. “We are coming off a great sell-out show with three title fights and a main event that has been viewed over 3-plus million times.”
In the press release, CFFC president Rob Haydak wishes Santella nothing but the best and hopes his former champion gets his overdue shot with a major promotion like the UFC.
“I truly hope he gets his shot,” Haydak said. “On any given day, he can strangle any flyweight in the world.”
Check out the full interview with former CFFC flyweight champion Sean Santella in the video above.
Mike Heck is the a freelance MMA journalist covering the sport for a number of websites. Specializing in video interviews, Mike interviews everybody from prospects, to title contenders, to world champions, along with other influential personalities in the sport of MMA. Subscribe to his channel at https://youtube.com/mikeheckmma.