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Training with Tyron Woodley, Rory MacDonald led Andrew Sanchez to RFA title fight

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Like many mixed martial artists before him who had dreams of making it big, Andrew Sanchez has picked up and hit the road in order to hone his skills.

The St. Louis native and two-time NAIA national wrestling champion has made several trips to Montreal, where he most recently for his current training camp.

It doesn't take an MMA geography major to realize the significance of those two cities on the current calendar. St. Louis is the home base of top welterweight contender Tyron Woodley. Montreal's Tri Star is Rory MacDonald's team. The duo will square off next week at UFC 174 in a bout with major divisional implications.

Sanchez, understandably, isn't going to go on the record with his thoughts on who will win the fight between his two most famous sparring partners.

"I'm just grateful I had the opportunity to learn from both of them," said Sanchez (5-1). "Obviously I'm not talking about the one when I'm with the other. Tyron can win that fight with his fists and Rory can win it if it hits the ground. We'll see how it goes."

What Sanchez will easily own up to, though, is that moving around and working with some of the best fighters in the game has lit a fire under his fledgling career. Just two years into the pro ranks, Sanchez will meet UFC and Strikeforce veteran Kevin Casey crown the inaugural middleweight champion at RFA 15 on Friday night. The main card at the Culver City Auditorium will air live on AXS TV.

"In some ways this is coming along faster than I could have imagined," Sanchez said. "In others ways it wasn't. I studied tae kwon do and judo as a kid and I had my wrestling career, so it's been a long time that way. Either way, it's pretty exciting to be on top of the card, it shows the promoters have faith in me."

RFA, the group run by Ed Soares, has fast become known as the place to be if you're trying to fast-track your way into the UFC -- former RFA bantamweight champ Pedro Munhoz, who appeared on the RFA's January card in LA, scored his first UFC victory just last weekend. But while Sanchez, like the fighters before him, sees RFA as a means to an end, that doesn't mean he's looking past the current crop of competition.

In Sanchez vs. Casey, we're seeing what might be the first real grudge match in RFA history, or at least the first to catch on in Twitter hype. Sanchez managed to successfully troll Casey on Twitter, leading to a heated war of words. Sanchez, among other things, called Casey "a mental midget."

"It started off as something that, I mean, I just like to joke around," said Sanchez. "And then it took a life of its own. I realized, he's a pretty emotional guy and an emotional fighter, so I decided I was going to get into his head right from the start. He fell for the bit easier than I would have imagined."

For his part, Casey did see anything funny in Sanchez's comments.

"He doesn't realize that he's unestablished in the game and he's coming into the ring fighting a real opponent," Casey recently told the Los Angeles Daily News. "He hasn't fought anyone that I consider to be on my level yet, so he's in for a rude awakening."

Of course, Sanchez can separate Twitter clowning from what actually goes on in the cage, and he understands that a victory over Casey would be a feather in his cap, and a big step toward joining the biggest stage with the likes of T-Wood and Rory Mac.

"Look, all kidding aside, this is a guy who's been around. He's been in the Ultimate Fighter, he's been in there with big names like Matt Lindland, he's fought in Strikeforce and the UFC. If I beat Kevin, that's a victory that gets me notice and a name that sticks out on my record. We might have had fun with him online but I respect him as a fighter."