One of Bellator MMA’s most promising featherweights has traded in snow drifts, frigid temperatures and icy roads for a far more forgiving climate -- at least for a few days.
Roufusport standout Emmanuel Sanchez will meet former World Series of Fighting and Tachi Palace Fights champion Georgi Karakhanyan in a pivotal showdown at Bellator 170 on Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, California. They are scheduled to lock horns in the shadows of the Tito Ortiz-Chael Sonnen main event, the stakes at 145 pounds undeniably high for both men.
Sanchez operates out of blustery Milwaukee and has won nine of his past 11 bouts, decision losses to former Bellator champion Pat Curran and onetime M-1 Global titleholder Daniel Weichel his only setbacks. “El Matador” has been in a steady ascent in the featherweight division, as he has joined the line of contenders forming behind Curran, Patricio Freire and reigning Bellator champion Daniel Straus. Sanchez’s split decision defeat to Weichel at Bellator 159 snapped a three-fight winning streak. The verdict could have gone either way, but the Duke Roufus protégé admits he dropped the ball.
“I definitely think I won that fight,” Sanchez told Sherdog.com. “I thought I landed the better shots and did enough to win ... but I didn’t do enough. I should have stopped him. Looking back, even though I think I won, I could have pushed the pace against Weichel. It’s my fault for leaving it in the hands of the judges, because if I would have really forced him to fight, I would have won. I have no one to blame but me.”
The loss to Weichel was preceded by consecutive decision victories over Henry Corrales, Justin Lawrence and Daniel Pineda. Sanchez thought a title shot was within reach.
“My training was the best it had been up to that point,” Sanchez said. “I know I wasn’t stopping any of my opponents, but when you get to this level, every fight is tough. Everything was [clicking] during my camps, and it showed in my performances.”
Following his failed encounter with Weichel, Sanchez went back to the drawing board to correct the mistakes he made. The 26-year-olds understands he cannot afford another misstep.
“I have been working on some little things that I’ve been doing wrong in my fights,” he said. “I also have been working overtime in training to really push the pace. I will have no excuse now going forward when I fight, because I plan on making my opponents fight as hard as they can for 15 or 25 minutes every time out now. There is no taking any steps back.”
Karakhanyan serves as his next hurdle. The Millennia MMA representative will enter the cage on a two-fight winning streak, though he, too, has tasted defeat at the hands of Curran and Weichel. Karakhanyan, 31, last appeared at Bellator 164 on Nov. 10, when he recorded a first-round technical knockout against Kirill Medvedovsky at Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv, Israel. Sanchez admits to being an unabashed Karakhanyan fan, as he admires the ferocity for which the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has become known throughout his 33-fight career.
“It’s going to be a great fight,” Sanchez said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s like that unstoppable force taking on the immovable object. I think our styles make for a hell of a fight. He loves to come forward and never stop throwing punches, and that is what I expect once that bell rings.”
The style clash seems like a recipe for a firefight, but Sanchez has no plans to become reckless inside the cage. While willing to exchange with Karakhanyan, he sees holes he can exploit by picking his spots.
“One thing he does is he leaves himself open to be countered a lot,” said Sanchez, who has compiled a 5-2 mark since he arrived in Bellator in October 2014. “I don’t see him changing that element to his game that much, and I’ll just wait for him to lean out too far when he punches. His style has worked well for him and I respect what he’s done, but I don’t see myself getting hit with any of his bombs.”
Sanchez believes a victory over Karakhanyan, particularly a decisive one, could clear his path to a title shot he has long coveted. He fancies himself one of the division’s best fighters, not just in Bellator but in all of mixed martial arts.
“I’m right there,” Sanchez said. “That title is waiting for me, and I hope to get my shot this year. I feel as though I am right at the top compared to all the featherweights in the sport. I just want an opportunity to show my skills, and I feel that I can beat all of them.”