Last Thursday night, Orlando “The Cuban Tree Stump” Sanchez unexpectedly passed away. Rumours would circulate the online grappling community for most of the following day, until his longtime gym Gracie Barra confirmed the tragic news early last evening via Instagram post.
“The news of the passing of Professor Orlando Sanchez profoundly saddens us,” the post read. “Thank you for being a great friend and one of our greatest athletes.” They would go on to praise Sanchez’s career as both a teacher and successful competitor.
Born February 5, 1982, Sanchez experimented with a wide variety of sports as a youth. Playing American Football through college, the Californian allowed drugs and alcohol to play a large role in his 20’s. But at the urging of a friend, he found his new passion in training BJJ under Draculino black belt Alberto Crane.
Sanchez was a force on the mats, quickly reaching brown belt in just three years of training. He frequently trained under Gracie Barra coaches in this time, growing closer to the organization as a whole. Sanchez fully joined GB as a black belt, promoted by former GB coach José “Zé Radiola” Olímpio.
In 2015, Sanchez arguably reached the pinnacle of the sport with his ADCC +99kg championship win over Jared Dropp. Overcoming fellow legends in Dean Lister and Vinny Magalhães, Sanchez used his infamous strength and pressure to carry the trophy home.
He would flow in and out of grappling headlines in the years since, notably scuffling with UFC fighter Sean Strickland in 2021 during training. Through his career, Sanchez advocated for mental health awareness for both athletes and spectators.
Sanchez also previously fought in MMA, going 4-0-1 from 2010 to 2015.
He is survived by his wife and three children.