Dazn is the exclusive streaming partner of Bellator MMA. You can sign up here and live stream 100+ fight nights a year.
Emmanuel Sanchez on March 9 was in the beginning stages of what he expected to be a fight-week run to his featherweight grand prix quarterfinal at Bellator 241. Four days later, on the morning of the event, he had no reason to believe anything would change the course he was on. Then, within a matter of hours, he went from preparing to compete to finding himself on a flight back home to Wisconsin.
Sanchez, 29, admits he does not keep up with national or international news, which is why the events of March 13 caught him off-guard. Despite the coronavirus outbreak being a major event throughout Asia and a developing story in the United States and Europe, the nine-year veteran was completely honed in on defeating Daniel Weichel inside the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“I’m doing all this stuff, doing my process, cutting weight, envisioning my fight, getting my rest and everything I need to do [on] fight week,” Sanchez told Sherdog.com. “I’m not a guy who watches the news much and pays attention to what’s going on in the world.”
That level of focus made him a top contender in the Bellator MMA featherweight division. However, it also cost Sanchez the ability to perceive the growing concern around him, even when the promotion switched Bellator 241 to a close-door event after Connecticut officials imposed new guidelines on public gatherings.
“I was 100 percent focused on fighting,” he said. “Even when they told me it was going to be a closed-[door] event, I was like, ‘even better,’ because I was going to be able to hear every kick, every punch—everything.”
However, as quickly as the situation moved from a run-of-the-mill show to one that was closed to the public, it changed course once again.
“Fight day, I woke up and was ready to seize the day [and] be victorious,” Sanchez said. “I go to play video games, and I get a phone call from my coaches saying the event was cancelled; and I was just told, like 30 minutes prior, that it was going to be a closed event.”
The reality of a building global pandemic had finally sunk in for the Roufusport representative. There was no longer a fight on which to focus. The drama of that moment in the region was suddenly at the forefront of his mind. In hindsight, he admits his disinterest with being locked in the recent news cycle or social media was in this instance to his detriment. For a man who still owns an iPhone7, the attention in his world was all on fighting. Now the virus’ path of destruction had entered his life.
“My world was flipped upside down,” Sanchez said, “because being in New York that Sunday [before the event], everybody’s shaking hands, hugging, kissing, whatever, then doing interviews [at the all-star media day], being out in public. Then [we had] the drive to Connecticut to get ready, promote, make weight and everything right until fight day. [Then] everything gets cancelled, and I’m rushing to the airport to fly home, and I’m seeing how everybody is in kind of [in] chaos and stressed.”
Nearly a month removed from the failed event, “El Matador” tries to maintain a positive outlook on the situation and the organization’s handling of it. In a world with over a million coronavirus cases and close to 100,000 deaths, Sanchez knows a postponed fight seems like small potatoes in comparison to what others are dealing with around the globe.
“I think [Bellator] made the right decision,” he said. “It sucks for everybody. There’s obviously bigger things going on than fighting. Everyone’s going through something. This has affected everybody.”
What has also helped to quell Sanchez’s disappointment is that all fighters and staff were compensated for their time and effort towards the postponed event—something of a rarity in an industry that can be harsh to its athletes. However, the compensation was not a surprise to Sanchez. In his mind, it was another instance of being taken care of by an employer for which he has much appreciation.
“I wasn’t too surprised because we went through the first part of [earning] your show money in making weight,” he said. “You show up fight week, you need to make your contracted weight. You did the first part of your job. It could have been a possibility that we couldn’t have [been compensated] for whatever kind of reasons, but I didn’t think that [would happen]. Getting paid—that was a big blessing that I’m very fortunate for, and it really showed how awesome a boss [Bellator President] Scott Coker is.”
Sanchez has tried to keep busy while he lives under stay-at-home mandates in Wisconsin. When not enjoying nature walks with his significant other and their dog, he continues to work on videos for the Duke Roufus Striking University—an online program offered through the gym’s website. He also continues to work from home in the hope that his rebooked matchup comes sooner rather than later. Sanchez originally wanted a spot on the promotion’s now-postponed events in May. With those options out of the equation, he has his eyes set on a return in June. Sanchez knows the promotion’s schedule remains in limbo. He considers himself lucky to have a general idea of what his plans are once the sport returns to some level of normalcy—something not all of his contemporaries can say.
“This is why I truly am blessed, and what I love the most is I’m in a tournament,” Sanchez said. “Unlike people in One [Championship], UFC, ACB or whatever other promotion, it’s tough. For me at least, I’m in a grand prix, and I know who I’m fighting. We just need to know when and where. I’m very fortunate to say that. At least I know who the next three opponents [could be]. I’m positive a phone call or text or something will come up, and whether they need to be closed-door events or a limited amount of people or whatever, we are going to overcome this. This too shall pass.”