Bellator's Emmanuel Sanchez on title fight vs. Patricio Freire: 'I just believe that I want it more'
Don’t expect Emmanuel Sanchez to talk any trash about the man he has to defeat in order to claim Bellator’s featherweight belt.
“Pioneer” and “legend” are words Sanchez uses to describe Patricio Freire, whom he meets in the headlining bout of Bellator 209 on Nov. 15. Asked to break down the matchup, Sanchez doesn’t point out a single negative in the champ’s game. From Freire’s black belt in jiu-jitsu or the great striking that can “put people’s lights out,” Sanchez says simply that Freire is an “overall amazing fighter.”
Sanchez (17-3 MMA, 9-2 BMMA) refuses to treat Freire (27-4 MMA, 15-4 BMMA) lightly. He’s “in no way, shape or form” looking past him, or believing it’s going to be as simple as going out there and smoking him. Sanchez knows he’s fighting one of the best in the world.
But, at the same time, Sanchez also knows Freire is just a man, just another human being. Just like him.
And when it’s all said and done?
“I just believe that I want it more,” Sanchez told MMAjunkie ahead of the bout, which airs on Paramount and streams on DAZN. “I believe my desire, my pressure, my pace – it’s just something that no fighter knows until they feel it. They can watch my film. They can, in their own mind, in their own world, say what they want to say and think what they want to think. But when that cage door closes, and they actually feel my pressure, when they feel my pace, when they feel my tenacity – then it’s something completely different that I know that they’ve never felt before.
“That’s something I’ve given to each and every single fighter I’ve faced and especially the highest-level ones – Daniel Weichel, Pat Curran, Marcos Galvao, Daniel Straus, you name it. No one knows until they feel it. So I’ve got to go out there and make this man feel everything that I’ve got.”
That is, indeed, quite a list – one that includes three ex-champions and a former title challenger. Not all were wins, but it’s worth noting Sanchez was only two fights into his Bellator career when he lost a unanimous decision to Curran – and went on a three-fight streak after that, before dropping a split decision to Weichel.
Sanchez has been on a tear since then, with four straight wins – including submissions over ex-champ Straus and, more recently, UFC veteran Sam Sicilia. When we talk about challengers who have earned their shots, Sanchez’s name is a pretty unanimous one.
But despite his experience with co-main event spots and former champions, the meeting with Freire at Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv, Israel, means a few firsts: It’s the first time that Sanchez is fighting outside of the U.S. And it is also the first time that he’s competing for a Bellator belt.
None of that particularly fazes Sanchez, though. Sure, there are a few tweaks that go into fighting in a different continent, on a different timezone. But, having worked so hard and patiently awaited for so long, “El Matador” is just too focused to let that concern him.
“You’ve always got to be ready to fight,” Sanchez said. “I can’t let anything get in my head, take a toll on me.”
And as for the added stakes – more specifically, the fact he might walk out of there a world champion?
On the one hand, as someone who’s thought about that “every single day of my life” since he was a kid, Sanchez is keenly aware of those. But, at the same time, Sanchez goes into the biggest fight of his career the same way he’s gone about many other fights before.
“It doesn’t matter if it happens to be five rounds, and the belt just happens to be on the line. Belt or no belt, I wanted to fight Patricio Freire,” Sanchez said. “He’s an amazing fighter, and I’m just excited to go in there and test myself against the best in the world.
“The whole reason I got in this sport is to be the best in the world and to beat the best in the world. (I’m) looking forward to getting in there and taking him out.”
Of course, that would involve pulling off something that not many people have done before.
“Pitbull” Freire, who will try to defend his title for a second time since re-claiming it from Straus, has only lost four times throughout an almost 15-year career. Three of those were decisions – two splits and one unanimous. The sole stoppage loss, to former UFC champion Benson Henderson, stemmed from an injury that forced Freire to forfeit in a bout that he was ahead of.
Going into his chance at dethroning the featherweight king, Sanchez will categorically tell you that “I’m the underdog.” Fortunately, though, that’s a label that Sanchez has grown used to wearing.
“People want to always overlook me and look past me and doubt me and just – I guess just think I’m not worth a damn,” Sanchez said. “But that’s fine. It’s the story of my life. I love proving the people who believe in me and support me and know I can go out there and defeat this man. I love proving those people right.
“And the people who hate me, doubt me, say I’m going to get killed, say I suck, whatever – I love them, too, you know what I mean? Because I love to prove them wrong.”