Emmanuel Sanchez knows he’ll be world champion one day. What he can’t control is whether that will take one or 10 fights.
So, in the meantime?
“To me, fighting is just like Pokemon: I’ve got to go out and catch them all,” Sanchez told MMAjunkie. “You want to be the master? You’ve got to catch them all.”
Sanchez (16-3 MMA, 8-2 BMMA) meets Sam Sicilia (16-8 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) in the co-headliner of Bellator 198, set for April 28 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., just outside Chicago. It airs on Paramount, along with the rest of the main card, after prelims on MMAjunkie.
Sanchez goes into it in a good position. Not only has he won his past three bouts – for a total of six wins in seven Bellator outings – but the two most recent victories were against former featherweight champions in Marcos Galvao and Daniel Straus.
RelatedDaily Debate: Ahead of Bellator 198, what's your pick for Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir?
With an interesting time in Sanchez’s career comes an interesting opponent. A “The Ultimate Fighter” alum with 12 UFC fights under his belt, Sicilia comes off his own win over ex-champ Galvao. But, before that, he was on the thee-fight skid that culminated with the end of his octagon run.
There are a few ways in which Sanchez could have interpreted the data on his opponent before signing on the dotted line. But that would have involved caring about whose name was there.
“As soon as they announced that they were going to make another trip to Chicago, I was like, ‘I’m in,’” Sanchez said. “And the fact that Fedor (Emelianenko) vs. Frank Mir is headlining it? I’m like, ‘Sign me up.’ For me, it didn’t matter who it was. I wasn’t going to wait for the title. I’m not going to wait for another contender. I’m not going to jump weight classes. Just get me in there, even if it meant throwing me in the heavyweight tournament, everyone knows I like to eat. I’ll do it.
“I didn’t care. I’m a young fighter. In my job, that’s exactly it, that’s my title: fighter. I’m not an athlete. I don’t have an offseason. I don’t get paid in the offseason. I get paid to fight, and that’s it. So I’ve got to stay active in order to eat. I knew. I was like, ‘I want a fight, let’s get a fight, doesn’t matter who it is.’ I’m motivated and amped. Doesn’t matter who it is, where it is – I’m always down to fight.”
Sanchez knows Sicilia is a top featherweight, too, otherwise he wouldn’t have made it to two of the world’s biggest stages. But, really, Sicilia doesn’t differ much from his previous opponents. After all, he’s also a man who wants to fight him. He’s also a part of Bellator’s featherweight division.
And he’s also standing in Sanchez’s way.
Emmanuel Sanchez (red gloves) at Bellator 175.
“To me, it doesn’t matter if he came from the UFC, ACB, ONE FC, whatever FC, KFC down the street, I don’t care,” Sanchez said. “You call my name out? You want to fight me? Let’s fight. That’s my personality. That’s the kind of person that I am. I don’t need do talk trash on – I don’t use these hands to tweet and Instagram stuff. I use these hands to fight. That’s what entertains fans, and I think that’s why people want to tune in and watch me fight.”
Considering Sanchez’s standing in the division, a win here could feasibly credential him to be the next challenger to the belt. Not only is he on a roll, but his last loss happens to have been to Daniel Weichel, who’s now set to challenge for Patricio Freire’s title.
In an uncommon situation for Bellator’s revanche-riddled 145-pound division, Sanchez has never faced the current champ. Which means, however Bellator 203’s title headliner ends on July 14, a fourth straight win would mean some leverage for a title shot.
Well, that’s what a lot of people are thinking, anyway. But is Sanchez, himself, thinking about a title shot?
“Yes and no,” Sanchez said. “I’m not overlooking Sam Sicilia. I’m not thinking about anything else but beating Sam Sicilia. Every single day of my life until next week, every night and every morning, all I’m thinking about is Sam Sicilia. That’s what I’m killing myself in the gym for. That’s what I’m sacrificing myself and my life, my personal life, everything. Everything is all about Sam Sicilia.
RelatedNo target on Sam Sicilia's back, but hopefully that will change once he builds Bellator resume
“I can’t wait to take out all my aggression, pain, sacrifice, and suffering on Sam Sicilia, because I damn near killed myself to make this happen. People always talk, ‘title title title,’ or big fights, whatever. If it takes one more, if it takes 10 more, whatever. Regardless, I’m going to be world champion. That’s it. That’s all I know.”
As a “horrible fight predictor,” Sanchez won’t venture any guesses as to how the featherweight encounter is going to play out exactly. Only that it’s going to be “however I want to.” He’s also confident in his preparation and can’t wait to show to the world just why he is “El Matador” and “the next big thing.”
Emphasis on “show,” rather than “tell.” Sanchez is the type of fighter who’d rather let his fists carry his fight-related messages, rather than engage in social media feuds or spit out brash call-outs. His opponent has a similar approach, which has led to mutual respect between the co-headliners.
When Sanchez steps out in front of his friendly crowd, setting the stage for a headliner between just the type of MMA legends he aspires to be, there will be no animosity. There will be no personal attachment. There will be only two men after the same thing.
“That’s where I think people break. They get so angry or frustrated or whatever; they let someone get in their head,” Sanchez said. “For me, nothing’s in my head. This is strictly business. Nothing personal. He didn’t do anything to me. I know he’s going to try to do something to me – but I’m not going to let him do it.”
For more on Bellator 198, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.