(I didn't take this photo)
Reigning King Of the Cage bantamweight champion Donald Sanchez could have avoided his embarrassing first round tap out to Tatsuya Kawajiri if he had stuck to his gameplan. Sure, Donald Sanchez has applied crisp submissions to win several of his top flight fights, but even he would certainly not have dismissed the Japanese legend’s grappling experience. It didn’t surprise anyone that Sanchez was not at all keen to takedown the Shooto champion during the fight. Sanchez obliged to fight Kawajiri in the ground positions they found themselves in, instead of escaping, and that’s how he lost.
Sanchez’s class-A striking was displayed during his ONE FC fight in his livid strafing footwork, his ability to swiftly move in and out of Kawajiri’s striking reach, and the barrage of dizzying quick punches that he opened the first round with. Sanchez and his corner knew that he had to keep the fight standing up in order to nail a knock out, or at least grind out a decision.
When a fighter is set to compete against a grappler of a much higher level, his team often shuns the notion of crash-coursing him in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The common procedure for pre-bout preparation would include regular grappling training, but emphasis would be placed on footwork, snuffing takedowns and avoiding conceding a completely horizontal Jiu-Jitsu position, from various clinch, cage and wrestling scenarios.
This training immediately came into play within half a minute, when Sanchez found himself awkwardly pinned to the cage by Kawajiri’s double-leg shoot. Whatever he was thinking when he slid off the cage and forced the Japanese ground-and-pound specialist into his full guard, we will never know. And boy was he eating a buffet of hard shots. Definitely not one of the smartest MMA moves this night.
Sanchez was momentarily able to prop Kawajiri out of striking distance, but his thighs quickly turned to jelly when they lost steam. He might have won multiple fights in the past via a myriad of dazzling submissions – rear naked chokes, triangle chokes, armbars, you name it – but tonight, fighting against a non-American for only the second time in his professional career, he lost Kawajiri from his loose full guard and quickly found himself pinned in tight side control.
Fence training came into play once again as the two changed roles. The ‘Crusher’ had now rolled Sanchez into his head-scissors, with only the fence preventing the aggressor from attaining a fully horizontal triangle.
Winded by the grip of the soon fully applied triangle, and exasperated by his lack of escape knowledge, Sanchez tried valiantly to pound his way out with a couple of misplaced tofu-textured strikes. He tapped inevitably at 3:27.
Sanchez might be a KOTC title holder, but he would probably be struggling if he were in the UFC mid-card. The key word is ‘escapes’. If a fighter does not have enough time to perfect his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu before a match against an expert grappler, he should at least be training and thinking hard how to bring the fight back to stand-up from all possible wrestling and takedown positions. Sanchez’s weak inner thighs also need to hit the gym.
Nonetheless, the kid from New Mexico's got lots of heart. He brushed off his loss, complimenting Kawajiri, saying, "he's basically a legend," and proceeded to the Land of the Rising Sun barely a month later, to challenge one of the sport's best pound-for-pound featherweights, Hatsu Hioki, to whom he lost, but gained the valuable experience he was looking for.
Sanchez has done enough to get noticed by the UFC, while the Japanese technician might well be on his way to America very soon.