Emmanuel Sanchez is by no means a towering featherweight, but he’ll have a massive physical advantage on Friday at Bellator 266 when he attempts to take the featherweight title from Patricio “Pitbull” Freire in the semifinals of the featherweight grand prix at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Showtime.
Sanchez is 5-foot-9 with a 76-inch reach, giving him four inches in height and 11 inches in reach over Freire, who holds the Bellator featherweight and lightweight titles and is clearly one of the finest MMA fighters in the world, regardless of weight.
Freire’s coach, Eric Albaraccin, scoffed at the notion that those edges will prove to be meaningful for Sanchez against Freire.
“If height mattered, the giraffe would be the king of the jungle,” Albaraccin said.
Albaraccin said when he was in Brazil several years ago, he saw the legendary Anderson Silva, then the UFC’s middleweight champion, sparring with a 5-foot-4 flyweight.
The difference in size between them was remarkable, and Albaraccin asked Silva what he got out of working with someone so much smaller.
“He looked at me and said, ‘These little guys are angry and they have that fire,’ ” Albaraccin said.
Freire has long had the fire, and has always been successful, but said in the last five years he’s begun to add elements to his game that have made him not only a dual champion but a contender for pound-for-pound best in the world.
He’s the last man to defeat Michael Chandler, who will fight Charles Oliveira next month for the UFC lightweight title.
That victory means a lot to him, just like he says it will to get a finish over Sanchez this time. Their 2018 fight went to a decision. Freire is a -250 favorite at BetMGM; Sanchez is +200.
Freire has dynamite in his hands, and predicts an early finish on Friday, but Sanchez doesn’t appear particularly concerned. Lauded by his coach, Duke Roufus, as one of the hardest workers at his gym, Sanchez has added to his game as well and expects an epic battle in Bellator’s debut on Showtime on Friday.
“I learned in my fight against ‘Pitbull’ that I can take his best shots,” Sanchez said. “That I can handle his pressure, his speed, his ferocity, his tenacity. I know that I can overwhelm him with mine. Of course, he’s grown, too, and he’s watched our fight and my recent fights. It’s like two lions staring at each other across the watering hole knowing that we’re going to cross paths again. I’m sure after I defeat him, I know we will meet again.
“I go back to all those years ago when I was watching Patricio Pitbull fight Pat Curran in a rematch. I was still a little humble, blue-collar baller trying to make his dreams come true. Driving an hour-plus to and from the gym every day. Sleeping in his car. Sleeping in the parking lot, on the gym floor. Now, here we are. That’s why I say it’s me turning my dreams into reality. All those third-shifters out there, this one’s for you. That’s where I’ve been at and I know I’ve been wanting to be on this platform, going out and turning my dreams into reality. I knew one day all that hard work, all that sacrifice and suffering was going to pay off. Like Muhammad Ali said, suffer now and live the rest of your life like a champion. That’s exactly what I’m going to go out and go do.”
Freire scoffs at such talk and believes that he’ll not only dominate, he’ll be even better than he’s been. He’s not close to his peak yet, he said, and will be better than he was when he knocked out Chandler in 2019 in just 61 seconds.
Freire is oozing with confidence and said Sanchez is going to pay a dear price when they meet.
“There are doubters out there, and for the people in the media who refuse to recognize me or acknowledge what I have accomplished, I can’t worry about it,” Freire said. “It depends on whether they’ve been bought off, as so many of them have been. I’m no doubt the best fighter in MMA. There’s no doubt about that, and I have the mental ability now to go along with the skills I have always had.”
Albaraccin interrupted him to make a point.
“He talks about being the best and maybe some of you guys [in the media] don’t see it,” he said. “But I see what this guy does in the gym every day and how he has an answer for every situation. It’s a shame he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, because he truly is a very special athlete.”
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