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Thursday, 03/06/2014, 12:11 pm

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EXCLUSIVE | Prospect Watch: Sanchez to Showcase in RFA 13 Co-Main

A blue chip wrestler with wicked submission skills meshed with a thirst to learn more and more.

A certain UFC middleweight champion from Long Island has already shown this as a blueprint to the ultimate in success in mixed martial arts.

Andrew Sanchez is building similar blocks necessary to just get a whiff of such heights.

Sanchez (4-1) faces Miles Marshall (3-1) in the co-main event of Resurrection Fighting Alliance 14 Friday at the Pershing Center in Lincoln, Neb. for the No. 1 middleweight contender slot. The Sanchez/Marshall winner will face Kevin Casey later this year for the vacant RFA 185-pound title.

At just 25-years-old, Sanchez, out of St. Louis’ Finney’s MMA, has already collected some lofty grappling accomplishments.

While attending McKendree University (outside St. Louis) he won two NAIA national wrestling titles and was a four-time NAIA All-American. He also earned a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Rodrigo Vaghi. He suffered his only career MMA loss in 2013 (albeit by decision to now Golden Glory kickboxing standout Dustin Jacoby) but still earned IBJJF – Chicago Summer International Open and IBJJF – Pan-American Jiu-Jitsu Championships at the purple belt level that year.

In late August he made a semi-successful attempt at getting on the upcoming The Ultimate Fighter making it to the second round of the selection process. While not picked for the final 16 he did make it through the first round of cuts in Indianapolis. But instead of sulking he latched on to the RFA and made his organizational debut with a clinical first round TKO of Todd Meredith. That win lifted him into Friday’s No. 1 contender bout.

“I wasn’t too bumed about not making the show,” Sanchez said. “It’s a fast track to the UFC but honestly, I think it would be a terrible experience. They try to drive you crazy. It’s my duty as a fighter to try and do the show. I couldn’t say no. I have to at least try. I didn’t make it but I feel like I’m going to make it regardless, whatever path I take. I’m in the RFA now and a lot of their champions have made it to the UFC and it’s almost like a feeder program.”

In Marshall, Sanchez faces an opponent whose bark is as equal to his bite but maybe lacks the polish ‘El Dirte’ possesses.

“He’s kill or be killed. He’s a wild man,” Sanchez said. “He’s fun to watch because he goes after it. I think he has a puncher’s chance. Unless he knocks me out cold early I’m going to be able to take him down and he’s not going to be able to stop it. The longer the fight goes the better I’m going to get and the worse he is going to get. I’ll get him to the ground and finish the fight. No problem.”

Sanchez has worked religiously on his standup. He knows a ground game, even one that’s as effective and as destructive as his, isn’t enough to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

“It’s not just about winning it’s about winning impressively,” Sanchez said. “The UFC wants to see people who can stand. All I’ve done is take guys down and beat them up. They’re not going to sign me until I least show I can stay on my feet.”

Sanchez never really threw a punch until about three years ago now getting better at it has become an obsession. Striking is a specialty at Finney’s and the St. Louis area is rich with training partners from  the varied crew at Finney’s to UFC welterweight contender Tyron Woodley at his disposal.

“I’m a fast learner and I work diligently,” Sanchez said. “I’m sparring with the best guys in the world and anybody in St. Louis that’s far as top level as far as boxing, kickboxing; (boxer) Ryan Coyne, Tyron Woodley, everybody. I’m throwing with these guys and we’re banging. Now I’m confident on the feet with anybody.”

Sanchez went on an extensive training “vacation” in February with stops at Tristar Gym in Montreal, Marcelo Garcia and Renzo Gracie’s gyms in New York City, and Ricardo Almeida’s gym in New Jersey. He was able to not just keep up but turn some heads and draw a comparison or two.

“I rolled with a guy who used to coach (Weidman) and a few people who said that at the age of 25 we’re both very similar,” Sanchez said. “My ground may even be more advanced. I’ve been doing jiu-jitsu as long as I’ve been wrestling and he did start until after college. But just to even be compared to a guy like that is just an honor.”

RFA 13 will be held at the Pershing Center. The entire main card will be televised live and nationwide on AXS TV at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT.

By Brett Auten | Twitter

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