Roufusport’s Emmanuel Sanchez has begun to make waves in Bellator MMA’s talent-rich featherweight division.
Sanchez will square off with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 alum and former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Justin Lawrence in a featured battle at Bellator 145 on Friday on the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The 25-year-old “El Matador” has won seven of his past eight fights, losing only a decision to Pat Curran on short notice.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Sanchez discusses his forthcoming matchup with Lawrence, the possibility of one day facing Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight champion Jose Aldo and leaving his job to pursue MMA on a full-time basis:
Sherdog.com: What are your thoughts on Lawrence?
Sanchez: I have the utmost respect for him, just like I do for every opponent. I think it’s going to be a tough fight. He’s well-rounded [and] he comes forward, and I’m well-rounded, as well, so when you have two skilled guys, it’s nothing but fireworks.
Sherdog.com: He has won four in a row since being released by the UFC, and it is not as if he has gone to low-level shows and beaten up on subpar opposition. Yet he appears to be fighting better than ever. Is that true in your mind?
Sanchez: That’s true. He’s good, been around the block, and he does look like he’s never been better. He’s young and up and coming, and right now, he’s staking his claim.
Sherdog.com: How do you expect him to fight you?
Sanchez: I think he might try to come out there any try to do what some other opponents have done against me. Our records are similar, and even though I have a few more wins, he’s been in the UFC already. I think I have fought equal if not better competition than he has. My only two losses are to [Lewis Gonzalez] and a former champion in Bellator. I’m going to go out there and do my thing. I know what he’s good at, and I know what he trains in; he’s very skilled. I’m not standing down. I’m going to take the fight to him.
Sherdog.com: How do you see the fight unfolding?
Sanchez: I believe this guy will be eliminated. That’s the only reason why I go into the cage and that’s to take care of business. I’m always looking for the finish, whether it comes from knockout or submission.
Sherdog.com: Bellator’s featherweight division is stacked. It can be a blessing and a curse at the same time because a loss could set you back quite a bit. Then again, a win could potentially vault you right into a title shot. Would you agree?
Sanchez: That’s so true. It’s tough and great at the same time. When you win, it’s like five steps forward and you’re on top of the world, but if you lose, it could be 10 steps backward. That’s what motivates me to work even harder, though. This kid is good and I respect him, but I know what my potential is and I know what I can do. I’m not worried at all whether I’m going to get my hand raised.
Sherdog.com: Is the depth of the weight class and the need to stay out in front why you took this fight so soon after beating Henry Corrales at Bellator 143 in September?
Sanchez: Yes, absolutely. This is only my sixth fight at 145 [pounds], and this division is mine for the taking. I’m a champion in the making. I’m confident, young, hungry and I feel that I can’t be beat.
Sherdog.com: Is there a three-year plan for you, and if so, what do you have in mind?
Sanchez: Whether it’s going to be Bellator gold or UFC gold, I’m going to be champion -- whatever it takes. I never saw myself in Bellator before, but when the opportunity came, I took it. What a great organization this is and what a great opportunity they have given me. I’m fortunate that I can skyrocket to the top by putting on wonderful performances. Now they want me on the main card because I bring it. In three years, I know I’m going to have strapped gold around my waist.
Sherdog.com: When do you feel you will be fully prepared to fight someone like Aldo?
Sanchez: I was born ready. I know whenever I get that call to fight for the title, I will be ready. I’ll just have to go out there and do it. To get things you’ve never had, you’ve got to do things you’ve never done. This year alone, this was the first time I’ve ever been able to do this full-time. All along the road on the way up, I had a full-time job, but right now, I’m full throttle.
Sherdog.com: How liberating is it not to have to work a full-time job anymore?
Sanchez: It’s so liberating. It’s an incredible feeling, and I can’t take it for granted. There’s no cutting corners at all. A lot of fighters blow up between fights or they don’t train as hard as they should. They’ll hang out and play video games or be with their girlfriend. With this, you’ve got to invest everything into this sport. You can’t half-ass anything. Nothing is easy.
Sherdog.com: What was the full-time job you left?
Sanchez: I’ve always worked in restaurants and in retail as a store clerk. Since living in Milwaukee, I worked in a car part factory. I helped make car parts. It was a good job where I got paid weekly and I had full health benefits. When I made my Bellator debut last year, right then I knew I had to focus on this because there are no shortcuts to greatness. When I got the contract form Bellator, I quit my job. You have one life, and you’ve got to roll the dice and take a risk to reap the rewards.