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Interview: Emmanuel Sanchez Says He Is Ready to “Take Care of Business” Against Pineda at Bellator 149

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Emmanuel “El Matador” Sanchez had a busy year in 2015. He fought four times, going 3 and 1, bringing his Bellator record to 4-1 overall. He racked up impressive wins over fighters like UFC veteran Justin Lawrence, former King of the Cage Champion Henry Corrales, and Costa Rica’s Alejandro Villalobos. His only blemish from the past year came by way of former featherweight champion Pat Curran. Up to that point, he hadn’t lost inside of a Bellator cage. While many would consider his 2015 run as a very impressive one, Sanchez had a little different take when he spoke to MMALatestNews.com.

“I look at the positives and negatives to [it],” explained Sanchez.”…now, I am looking to do something completely different here, I fought too many rounds in 2015. I wanted more finishes. I pride myself on being a finisher and I know that I can go out and finish. So in 2016, if there [are] less fights and [they are] all finishes, I will take that. I want to go out and put on great performances, but I want to finish fights like I know I can.”

“El Matador” says that 2016 will be “an even bigger year.” It all starts with his fight this Friday against UFC veteran Daniel “The Pit” Pineda at Bellator 149 in Houston, TX.

Sanchez, who trains in Milwaukee with the renowned Roufusport MMA Academy, is very pleased with how his camp has gone. A week out from his fight he is weighing about 150 pounds and is expecting to weigh a little less on Monday before he travels to Houston. Training at a gym with so many great fighters and champions, like Ben Askren and Anthony Pettis, makes it easier for him to be prepared to make the Featherweight limit of 145 pounds.

While he “has never had a nutritionist or anything” Sanchez said that he learns a lot from his team by seeing “how different fighters do things” and by doing so, he has found what works for him, allowing him to compete at his best. Like most MMA fighters Sanchez trains year round. He is always ready for the next fight and was already back to training, getting ready to “go out and take care of business again”, when Bellator sent him the contract to fight Pineda just two weeks after his decision victory over Justin Lawrence back in November.

Some fighters and trainers might take a look a Pineda’s record and notice that he has never won a fight that went the distance. They might think that it might be a smart game plan take him deep into the later rounds of a fight. Then, if you thought you were ahead on the score cards you could ride it out and play it safe for the easy win. Another glaring statistic is that he has 15 submissions victories out of his 21 wins and he has finished his last three opponents via submission. A statistic like that would tell most people that Pineda should have the advantage should the fight go to the ground. Sanchez, however, is confident that no matter where the fight goes he will be victorious.

“I am looking to go out and exploit all the holes and win by submission or knockout…”

His entire outlook going into this match exudes confidence and it really doesn’t matter to him where the fight goes. If it remains standing or goes to the ground Sanchez is looking for one thing, a finish. “Honestly… I believe I can beat him everywhere,” said Sanchez. “I believe that I am better at every single aspect of the game. If we were to start a Jiu-Jitsu match – on our knees or standing – yeah, he might have the edge. He might be able to catch me but this is a mixed martial arts fight.”

Sanchez went on to comment about the flaws in his opponent’s record stating that Pineda has, “…been finished more than once”. Sanchez wasn’t specific about a strategy but he made it clear that he’s keeping his eyes open for weaknesses. “I am looking to go out and exploit all the holes and win by submission or knockout,” said Sanchez. “I want either of the two.”

Another thing that people may speculate about is the fact that the winner of this bout may very well become the next in line for a shot at newly re-crowded two-time Bellator Featherweight Champion Daniel Straus. Sanchez however doesn’t concern himself with those thoughts. He gets the questions and he is used to them but you will never hear him complain if the fight doesn’t happen.

He just feels fortunate to be at this point he is in his career, staying busy for the last year in a half, being signed with a great company like Bellator, and being able to do what he loves to do. “There is no need to make a campaign,” Sanchez says. “When the time is right, it will be there.” Only focusing on what is in front of him, he knows that by taking care of his opponents one fight at a time, and “moving the needle” in the process, he will earn that title shot. That is the same advice he would give to guys just starting in the sport. Be patient and put in the work and your time will come, just as it did for him.

“I have fought in pretty much all my opponents backyards. Unless I fought in Milwaukee, all my opponents were hometown heroes and I was getting booed, so I am used to it.”

Pineda will also be the hometown favorite in this fight. Born in Dallas and now living and training with the 4 oz Fight Club in Houston, the Texas crowd will undoubtedly be behind him. As you might guess, that doesn’t bother Sanchez either. Being from Milwaukee, he says this is just, “the same ole’ dance.”

“This is not the first time,” said Sanchez. “I have fought in pretty much all my opponents backyards. Unless I fought in Milwaukee, all my opponents were hometown heroes and I was getting booed, so I am used to it. I have tough skin… we see it this way, it’s a fight… I am going to come into your backyard and I am going to mess you up.”

With his record sitting at 12-2 and being 5 fights into his Bellator career, many would feel that at this point in his career, every one of his next fights is his ‘toughest fight’. Stress and pressure would be expected but Sanchez would be the first to tell you that there is no pressure at all and that he never feels any type of pre-fight anxiety.

No nerves, just faith. To Sanchez, his faith is “everything.” It not only motivates him during a fight but it drives him throughout his training camps and his career. He knows that he is on the right path in life and feels very fortunate to be able to do what he knows he is meant to do. He sees his gifts inside the cage as a blessing, a blessing that he will use until he sees the signs that it is time to call it quits. At 25 years old that type of purpose and understanding is something that we all can admire and after what we saw in 2015, don’t expect for Senor Sanchez to see those signs anytime soon.

Along with faith and patience, taking care of business is the theme that is repeated over and over again in the fighting life of Emmanuel Sanchez. However, there is one thing that he does get tired of. Tired of thinking about his opponent and having to answer the same questions about him. Sanchez is more about action. Living in a city that is known for “cheese, brats, football [and] baseball” would have to make the grueling nature of training and making weight that much tougher. As “El Matador” puts it, “someone has to suffer for this if I have to suffer… I really want to get this over with and enjoy a slice of pizza.” Just make sure you make it with plenty of vegetables because chances are he will be back in the gym on Monday.

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Bellator: Selecting the Four Alternates for the Heavyweight Grand Prix.

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With an 8-man tournament bracket full of legends and former champions, join us as we chose four alternates for the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.

Main Tournament Participants:

  • Fedor Emelianenko
  • Frank Mir
  • Chael Sonnen
  • Quinton Jackson
  • Roy Nelson
  • Matt Mitrione
  • Ryan Bader
  • King Mo Lawal

The alternate tournament bracket will consist of: two opening round fights (semi-final), and then two victorious fighters competing against one another at the finale (final). This will determine a worthy contender to step into the main tournament bracket, in case any of the main bracket fighters are injured in their semi-final bouts.

If a pull-out or injury occurs before the opening bouts, I believe Bellator have to select the most decorated fighter, and a natural heavyweight fighter. So in case of a pull-out occurring before the opening round, I would select my #1 alternate, and so on for any more opening pull-outs.

This structure covers all bases, and keeps the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament intense and prestigious.

So with the structure laid out, here is our selected alternate fighters.

  • #1: Vitaly Minakov
  • #2: Linton Vassell
  • #3: Attilah Vegh
  • #4: Emanuel Newton

Alternate Opening Round [Semi-Final]:

  • Bout 1: #1 Vs. #3
  • Bout 2: #2 Vs. #4

Alternate Final:

  • Victor of Bout #1/#3 Vs. Victor of Bout #2 Vs. #4

Linton Vassell vs. Emanuel Newton would be a trilogy that needs to be completed. Linton dominated on the ground for the most part of their first bout, but felt he gave up positions he felt he could have held longer, and took needless transitions and risks; allowing for a very sneaky Emanuel Newton to escape the clutches of ‘The Swarm’, and when the gas tank begins to empty – a scrambling Emanuel Newton is not what you want!

Fighter bios:

Vitaly Minakov: A former Bellator tournament winner, and former Bellator heavyweight champion. A Judo black belt, and multi time Sambo world champion, there’s no denying this man’s resume as one of the best put forth out of these 4 fighters.

Linton Vassell: A man who really lives up to the moniker – ‘The Swarm’, Linton Vassell has dominated and dispatched various opponents Bellator have put across from him. Having fallen short in two title fights, and a close decision loss to King Mo, Linton has shown that he’s there with the best Bellator has to offer, maybe the Heavyweight Grand Prix might see the dark-horse finally come into the lime-light! Currently contracted to Bellator with a 7-3 record for the promotion.

If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:

Emanuel Newton: Already holding two victories over King Mo, who’s allocated in this Heavyweight main tournament bracket – that alone is just cause to enter Emanuel. An exciting and unpredictable entry this would be. Bellator parted ways with Emanuel in 2016. Currently, Newton is not on the best of runs, but this tournament needs a ‘wild-card’, and Emanuel owns that title.

Attilah Vegh: A former Bellator LHW champion. Not currently signed to Bellator. Was strangely released in 2014 after having a record of 5-1 with the promotion, and some victories over some very reputable names. Currently on a 2 fight win-streak outside of Bellator MMA.

If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:

 

Bellator 192 at The Forum – Jan. 20, 2018: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (37-12) vs. Chael Sonnen (30-15-1)
Bellator 194 at Mohegan Sun Arena – Feb. 16, 2018: Matt Mitrione (12-5) vs. Roy Nelson (23-14)
Bellator at Allstate Arena – April, 2018: Fedor Emelianenko (36-5, 1 NC) vs. Frank Mir (18-11)
Bellator at SAP Center – May, 2018: Ryan Bader (24-5) vs. “King Mo” Lawal (21-6, 1 NC)

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Exclusive: Hisaki Kato: “My priorities are in MMA”

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French-Japanese middleweight Hasaki Kato returns to the Bellator cage Friday as he takes on former welterweight Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani. Ahead of the high-level striking match-up, Kato took the time out of his busy schedule to speak with MMA Latest.

Rangy striker Njokuani makes his middleweight debut Friday as he looks to erase his loss to Andrey Koreshkov from recent memory. It isn’t lost on Kato just how tall and lanky the 6’3 striker truly is. “Well he’s very tall,” Kato tells MMA Latest. “He was a welterweight but even for a middleweight he’s really tall he’s like 6’2, 6’3 taller than me, longer reach than me. Obviously, I was watching his fights, he’s fighting with range and using his reach to fight so that’s his number one weapon.”

In Njokuani’s last fight, Koreshkov, the former welterweight champion, held Njokuani down and elbowed him until the ref stepped in. So what exactly went wrong in the fight? “Well, first I think Koreshkov is really, really strong,” Kato explains. “Chidi Njokuani normally escapes the ground part or at least he’s on top of his opponent. But Koreshkov has good pressure and good grappling and he could take the top position. Obviously, Njokuani is not comfortable when he is on the bottom. So yeah, I think he couldn’t play his game during the last fight because Koreshkov was putting too much pressure on him.”

Former UFC fighter, Gegard Mousasi, recently made his debut against Alexander Shlemenko back in October. The Dutchman had a tough debut that resulted in a controversial decision win, Kato weighed in on whether or not he’s eyeing a fight with him and what he thought of his Bellator debut. “If I have an offer I will fight him,” he says without any particular enthusiasm. “I will fight everybody in the division. Yeah, for the last fight, well, I think luckily for him it was a three-round fight. I think if it was a five round fight the victory would have gone to Shlemenko. I don’t know maybe he had a bad camp, I don’t know but he was doing terrible.”

Kato also believes a title shot isn’t far away. “I believe I’m really close to that (a title shot),” he says. “After the win, after the Gracie fight, even if it was a decision win, the Gracie is a big family name so I was expecting a title fight. I didn’t have it so I guess if I win this time I have a good chance to have it.”

Whatever you do, don’t expect to see Kato back in a kickboxing ring anytime soon. Does it interest him to return? “Not really,” Kato replies after giving the question some thought. “If the offer is good then why not, for now, I feel more comfortable in MMA so my focus, my priorities, are in MMA.”

Many fans were very disappointed with the way his last fight turned out. Paired up against jiu-jitsu fighter, Ralek Gracie, Kato ended up going to the judges for the first time in his career. “Yeah the fight itself was really frustrating,” Kato admits. “I couldn’t do what I wanted and after two rounds, I knew I had done enough to win, and I knew he would push more. So I decided ‘yeah ok then it’s going to a decision’ but at the very least I had to win that fight.  That’s why I didn’t take too many risks in the third round. During the first and the second, I really wanted to end that fight like I always try but I couldn’t do it.”

So why hasn’t Kato fought since January? “I had an offer in September,” he says. “But I got injured during the training and had to go into surgery, and after the surgery, the process is really long to recover so that’s why.”

So what does Kato predict for the fight? “Obviously his nickname is ‘Bang’ you know, he likes to fight and that’s all I like doing too,” Kato laughs. “I’m really thinking about having a big knockout with my hands.”

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Exclusive: Fernando Gonzalez talks Paul Daley and Michael Page fights

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Long-time Bellator welterweight contender, Fernando Gonzalez, has made a career out of fighting the best fighters his promotion had to offer. The always tough Californian has displayed this willingness to fight the best when he took on Paul Daley in a kickboxing match and when he took on Michael ‘Venom’ Page, in what was supposed to be Page’s coming out fight.

The kickboxing match with Daley happened back in 2015 at “Bellator MMA and Glory: Dynamite 1” in an event that featured both Glory kickboxing as well as its fair share of intriguing Bellator MMA fights. Gonzalez would go on to lose the fight in what many fans called a ‘lackluster’ contest. Speaking to MMA Latest, Gonzalez was asked if he had any interest in returning to the kickboxing ring and why he participated in Glory kickboxing.

“No. Honestly, that kickboxing match was more just to get Daley; because they kept trying to give him to me on short notice and one was on an injury,” Gonzalez told MMA Latest. “So I was like, ‘no I don’t want to give him an easy win’, but the only thing they came up with was that kickboxing match in that time. So ever since that fight, I was like ‘listen dude lets do this MMA’. I’m an MMA guy, I know how to kickbox and I’m good with it but I prefer MMA. I love doing MMA. I don’t like to have too many rules put on me. I like being able to go out there and flow freely. Honestly, I want Daley in an MMA fight so he gets the real fight.”

Gonzalez’ fight with Michael Page was booked as the veteran getting fed to the younger up and coming contender. The fight was Page’s opportunity to add another highlight reel knockout to his collection. Obviously, someone forgot to tell Gonzalez. Gonzalez went out and made sure he never gave Page any openings, unfortunately, he would go on to lose the fight by split decision. Fernando explains what went wrong in his only Bellator loss.

Honestly the only thing that went wrong in the fight is how people viewed the fight”, Gonzalez explains. “If you really look at the fight he really didn’t land anything. The whole first round they’re talking him up, how he’s dancing and how it’s putting me into a lullaby and this and that. I was never in danger. He was not throwing a single punch. This is MMA, you cant just take on the fight with one style, you have to fight different styles for different people. If it was just boxing, you would fight a boxer just one way realistically, but Michael Page has the karate style. So you have to come up with a different formula if you’re going to fight somebody like that.”

“So my style with him, I knew that he’s used to everybody rushing him and trying to take him down. I’m a striker so I don’t mind striking. If I’m not in danger then I’m going to keep it striking. So what I did was I circled, I kept him at arm’s length, so he constantly had to throw long arms where he’s having to reach out and grab you. He’s throwing those arms out, that makes him have to basically hold his arms out a lot longer than he’s used to. He’s used to guys rushing in on him. So with me playing that outside game, obviously my legs are a lot longer than my arms, so I had to throw a lot more kicks, there was a lot of head kicks to take away his power-punch where he leaps in. By doing that, that made him work a lot longer in the second and third round where he’s normally finishing guys. By that third round, he was completely exhausted and couldn’t throw. He said his timing was off and this and that, but he was just exhausted. I had already gassed him out and he had just enough to stay away from me.”

“Really it’s just how you see the fight. They automatically assumed I had to take him down to win and that’s not necessarily true. If I’m not in danger, and I’m landing kicks, and I’m landing good shots, and he’s hitting my arms. Realistically most of the shots he landed were on my arms and that really doesn’t count. So it’s really just how you see it and that’s why one judge had it 30-27. It’s just how you’re seeing the fight. If you’re a striker you would know what you’re looking at, but if you’re a ground guy, of course, you’re going to say ‘oh I got to get it to the ground’ which is what the commentators were; two ground guys talking about what I should’ve done.”

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