Bellator 226: “Bader vs. Kongo” hits SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., this weekend (Sat., Sept. 7, 2019), featuring the “champ-champ” Ryan Bader (27-5) defending his Heavyweight title against the streaking Cheick Kongo (30-10-2), who looking for his ninth straight win (and first world title).
Before that can take place, though, the Featherweight Grand Prix will kick off with opening round bouts. One such tournament match up features former No. 1-ranked contender “El Matador” Emmanuel Sanchez (18-4) facing the dangerous “Air” Tywan Claxton (5-0).
Claxton has finished four of five opponents by knockout (80 percent), including his now famous flying knee knockout in his Bellator debut, a win so spectacular it has left fans drooling for more every time he steps into the cage. Sanchez is well aware of his opponent’s knockout prowess, but he was equally aware of it when he faced Featherweight champion “Patricio” Pitbull Freire and took him the distance. Even though he didn’t leave with the gold, he’s got a second chance to potentially face the champ in this Grand Prix.
MMAmania.com recently spoke with Sanchez about a critical opening round bout with Tywan Claxton and how motivated he is to make another title run.
“It excites me because it’s like starting from scratch but, I know that I have another young hungry top fighter across the cage from me. I’m hungry to go out there and defeat him, you know, go out and put him away. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to stop him in the first or second round.”
Sanchez is also excited about the entire way the tournament has been put together.
“This is something truly remarkable, historic, epic — and that’s what I’m looking to do man, I’m looking to make history. I have this great fighter in front of me, a great test, and I know it takes four to win it all but it starts with this young man on September 7th. This will be the first round of the Grand Prix and I’m looking to kick it off with a bang.”
There’s more than just another crack at the champ in this tournament though — there’s a $1 million prize for the winner. Does the money give Sanchez any extra motivation?
“You know I don’t just want a slice, I want the whole pie, I want the whole cake. Sometimes there’s just regular frosting on a cake or a plain cake, and man that million is like strawberries I guess. It just adds more on top. Same thing with a pizza. It’s just like adding more toppings on the pizza, the more the merrier, right? Instead of a plain cheese I get some bell peppers, some mushrooms, some chicken and pineapple or some beef on that. It’s gonna be delicious.”
Someone sounds pretty HUNGRY right now. Maybe all that training and weight cutting is getting to Sanchez a little bit ...
“Absolutely! Hungry in every way shape and form. Both metaphorically, physically and hypothetically, you know what I mean? I’m hungry in every which way my man, so you know I’m craving some pizza right now.”
Sanchez insists he’s fully focused, though, and ready for that Grand Prix grind.
“For me what means the most is winning all four fights, honestly. To go out there and be the man, the one out of 16, to defeat everyone and leave no doubt that I defeated everyone in my way to win the whole tournament and become the undisputed Featherweight world champion.”
Despite being one of the least experienced Grand Prix fighters at 5-1, Sanchez knows just how determined Claxton will be when they meet on Saturday night.
“Had this been in tournament or not I would have wanted to fight him because of the amazing performances that he’s been able to put on. You know, testing my skills against his. That’s competition for you. He’s seen as one of the best. They could have chose anyone in the division, there’s more Featherweights on the rosters, but they chose him. To me it’s getting to be able to test my skills against one of the best in the world, one of the best in this tournament, and I’m hungry to go out there and defeat him.”
Claxton’s four knockout wins prove he’s a hard hitter, but “Pitbull” is legendarily strong and Sanchez survived all five rounds. Can any other fighter test him after that?
“To be honest with you even being in the ring with him, for being the most dominant champion, a legend in the sport and now a two weight world champion multiple time champion, I thought he’d hit harder and be a lot harder to hit! The same goes for me with the last two title holders that I fought in Daniel Straus and Pat Curran, and the title challenger in Daniel Weichel.”
Sanchez may have a “tough chin,” but so do the other men that he named, which makes this one of the most loaded tournaments ever, and certainly in the history of the 145-pound division.
“Abso-freakin-lutely! That’s why to me this is so historical, going out to become world champion, defeating everyone and winning this whole thing — getting the whole pizza, the whole pie you know? This is the biggest tournament right now in all mixed martial arts. There’s no one else doing this, and there’s no other tournament with this amount of former champions and this amount of killers, in the toughest division in the world.”
Last but not least, does Sanchez have any “champ-champ” aspirations of his own?
“Yeah, absolutely! When the time comes, when that bridge gets there, I’ll be looking to cross that as well. That’ll be another mountain I’m looking to climb.”
“El Matador” is full of metaphors, exciting fights, and hopefully a big slice of pizza after his fight in San Jose this weekend.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of Bellator 226: “Bader vs. Kongo” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
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