Eddie Sanchez: Natural Born Fighter

By Greg Savage Feb 3, 2007
“If you want to be the best,” UFC heavyweight Eddie Sanchez claims, ”You’ve got to fight the best.”

Lucky for him Joe Silva came calling with an invitation to fight one of, if not the most menacing striker the world of mixed martial arts has ever seen. In drawing the unenviable task of dueling with the juggernaut that is Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Sanchez will get his wish to prove he belongs among the world’s better heavyweights.

The build up to the talented Croatian’s North American debut has seen many, if not all observers quick to dispatch Sanchez as little more than a welcoming mat that “Cro Cop” will use to wipe his feet with on his way in the UFC front door.

While the media and fans have been quick to write off the undefeated underdog, Sanchez has been preparing for an opportunity of a lifetime. Not one to despair in the face of long odds, the 24 year-old native of Vista, CA only has to recall another instance in his not-so-distant past to fortify his confidence.

You see, long before he ever stepped into a ring or cage Eddie Sanchez knew what it was to be a fighter. Once a promising baseball prospect, Sanchez’s career was cut short by a devastating car accident in 2002.

A catcher at Palomar Junior College, Sanchez had aspirations of one day making it as a professional baseball player. Those dreams came crashing down on a stretch of Interstate 5 in Southern California. The car Sanchez was in lost control and slammed into the center divider at a high rate of speed.

“I was ejected through the windshield and my friend remained in the car as it rolled seven times,” recalled Sanchez. “[My friend] was lucky since he was short because the whole top of the car was crushed.”

His body broken but still alive, Sanchez was taken by helicopter to the hospital where he would spend the next three weeks in intensive care.

“My right foot had been degloved and there was a 50 per cent chance they would have to amputate it,” declared Sanchez. “Since I was so young (21 at the time), they decided to try to save it. So 80 staples, four-and-a-half months of rehab later I was on the mats in wrestling shoes.”

As is often the case in life, when one door closes another opens. This was the case for the now former baseball player as he looked to find a way to get back in shape after his traumatic accident. Spurred on by a friend, Sanchez began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and as the old cliché goes, the rest is history.

Sanchez went from promising prospect to fighting for his life in a matter of seconds but from that terrible experience blossomed another opportunity. The fight game was beckoning and Sanchez answered the call.

His training soon expanded to include wrestling and striking and before long he was ready to start his new career. Soon, Sanchez’s name appeared on the radar screen of numerous promotions. A knack for taking on any and all comers as well as a penchant for exciting fights lead Eddie to the brink of his dream. And not too long after rattling off a number of wins in shows like Total Combat and King of the Cage, Sanchez made it to the big leagues in his new chosen sport.

The UFC came calling in September 2006 and Sanchez did not disappoint. He knocked out Mario Neto just 17 seconds into the second round and in doing so established himself as a fighter to be reckoned with in the wide open UFC heavyweight division.

Enter Mirko Filipovic (Pictures).

Fresh off his impressive run through the PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix, “Cro Cop” had clearly established himself as the best heavyweight not named Fedor. Filipovic soon thereafter made the jump from Japan across the Pacific into the waiting arms of the UFC.

After Zuffa had pried open the vault to sign him, it was apparent they would need to introduce him and his lethal left shin to the North American fans. What better way to do that than sacrifice a young, lesser experienced fighter?

Eddie Sanchez was ready, willing and able when the phone rang. While others thought he was crazy, Sanchez thought of the break as the opportunity of a lifetime. And now, after putting in a tough training camp, he is certain he made the right decision.

“You don’t have to ask me a second, twice, I’m gonna take that fight no matter what, you know. Ready or not, we’re gonna be ready, we have a game plan going into this and it’s going to be really good. I can’t wait.”

As for his mindset heading into the biggest fight of his life, Sanchez went on to state, “I am taking this fight like any other fight. The name ‘Cro Cop’ goes in one ear and out the other. I am not focusing on ‘Cro Cop,’ I am focused on the fact that I am fighting a southpaw who is a K-1 level striker.”

It can be tough going into a fight no one gives you a chance to win but Sanchez need only look back to the card on which he fought his first UFC bout for inspiration.

“On paper, sure he is a big favorite,” commented the North County Fight Club heavyweight. “But I just look at the Joe Lauzon (Pictures)-Jens Pulver (Pictures) fight, a 7-1 underdog knocked out one of the top guys in the world.”

As has been proven time and again, MMA is completely unpredictable at times. “Cro Cop” himself can attest to that. He was knocked out cold in 2004 by a right hand to the chin courtesy of Kevin Randleman (Pictures), who was a huge underdog himself going into that fight.

Sanchez’s manager and co-trainer Matt Stansel touched on that aspect of the sport when explaining the rational behind taking this fight, a fight absolutely no one outside their gym gives them a chance to win.

“It’s an MMA game, anyone can lose at any time,” Stansel explained. “So if you are going to lose, you might was well lose to the absolute best. And if you’re going to win, you might as well beat the absolute best.”

That point was echoed by Sanchez himself.

“I have nothing to lose in this fight but I have something to prove. If I can win or even take him to a decision, give him a hard time, I will prove that I am a world-wide contender in the heavyweight division.”

One thing is for certain, Eddie Sanchez will not be going down without a fight. Whether his confidence is misplaced remains to be seen. Chances are he will not win; but as we have seen before, Eddie Sanchez doesn’t get discouraged by long odds, he beats them.
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