Joby Sanchez makes his UFC debut against Wilson Reis on Saturday. | Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Don’t tell Joby Sanchez that he should have postponed his golden opportunity.
The Jackson-Wink MMA flyweight prospect makes his Octagon debut on Saturday against Wilson Reis at UFC Fight Night Tulsa – just 16 days after he stopped WEC veteran Antonio Banuelos in the second round at Tachi Palace Fights 20 “Night of Champions.”
Sanchez was originally expected to face Matt Manzanares for the Resurrection Fighting Alliance 125-pound title on Sept. 12 in his hometown of Albuquerque. A win in RFA, a promotion which has established itself as a consistent pipeline to the UFC, likely would have punched Sanchez’s ticket to the big time. However, his learning curve instantly accelerated when Tim Elliott suffered an injury and had to withdraw from his bout against Reis.
Too soon? Not even close.
“I thought if I was to win the RFA fight, I thought for sure I was going to get the call. I was surprised to get the call so soon,” Sanchez told Sherdog.com. “There is that question: Is it too soon? Am I still too green to be in this type of organization? The scary thing is, I could have lost that RFA fight, and I could have lost another fight after that.
“I could have gotten super close to the big show and always lost the fight to get there. The opportunity was here, and we just had to take it.”
At first glance, it would seem as though Sanchez, who only recently turned 23, has plenty of time to grow and develop. However, the New Mexican’s personal timetable for success left less margin for error than one might expect.
Sanchez was just 13 years old when he watched the initial season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” He lost his first amateur fight a couple weeks after turning 18. As his pro career began, the combination of training, fighting and attending school exacted a financial toll.
In short, Sanchez learned what so many veterans of his profession already know: MMA is not lucrative unless you’re at the top.
“Living at home, I didn’t want to be a burden to my parents. My parents were supporting me, but they were like, ‘You’ve [got] to do something -- either school or a full-time job,’” he said.
“I set a goal: to get to the UFC by the time I was 25. If I didn’t reach that goal, then I was to retire.”
Now that he has a four-fight deal with the MMA’s largest organization, Sanchez says he still would have lived up to his vow had the UFC not come calling within the next two years.
“I probably would have. It’s really hard financially,” he said. “No disrespect to people who do it, but there’s guys out there who are 31, 32 years old in the smaller shows trying to make it. I don’t want to say it’s too late because it’s not -- it’s different. I want to be able to have a family and a career later.”
Sanchez’s exit plan remains in place: He serves as a volunteer firefighter in Belen, N.M., and is still interested in pursuing a full-time career in that field eventually. Not that he doesn’t have options.
“There’s a lot of things I think I can do,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to think I’m pretty smart.”
In order to take his MMA career to the next level, Sanchez already had to make a difficult decision. A longtime student of the Chavez Dojo in Albuquerque’s South Valley, Sanchez moved to Jackson-Wink MMA late last year.
The choice remains a sensitive issue, one that Sanchez prefers not to discuss at length. He says that he has not talked to Melcor Chavez, the head of the camp, in several months.
“I’m grateful for everything that the Chavez Dojo has done for me; I appreciate everything they’ve done,” he said. “The transition was hard. I went from being top dog in my gym to being in a room full of guys that were way better than me. My first two months there I got beaten up a lot. After that, I was able to pick up the pace, keep up with the guys and push some of the guys.”
With such a short turnaround, Sanchez admittedly didn’t get to have much of a camp to prepare for Reis. Still, now that he’s in the UFC, he plans on sticking around for a while. He’d like to believe that he will eventually be mentioned right alongside the top talent in the flyweight division.
“You’ve got young guys [in the weight class] like Ray Borg and Sergio Pettis. Young guys that are talented; they only have more room to grow,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to consider myself in there. I have more time to get better now with some better money in the UFC.”