Isaac Marquez came into the JacksonWink MMA gym earlier this year, walked two inches from the mat there and that’s when he met Diego Sanchez.
Sanchez told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour that he never expected his relationship — and eventual fight — with Marquez to go viral online. That, the longtime UFC fighter said, was never the intention.
“I didn’t plan any of it at all,” said Sanchez, who appeared on the show with Marquez via Skype. “There was no plan to it. It was just me meeting someone, sharing love, sharing the mixed martial arts. For me, I’ve only improved and gotten better while training Isaac. Everything Isaac does, I train right there along with him.”
Marquez, who has Down syndrome, is a massive fan of the UFC. Sanchez offered to train Marquez, who recently was dealing with the death of his mother. The idea, at first, was to just get “The Shermanator,” which he has been dubbed by those at JacksonWink, physically fit.
“One of the coolest things was that he immediately lost weight, he would listen to me and eat healthier,” Sanchez said. “It’s amazing. It’s been an amazing journey and we’re only seven months into the journey and we only train once a week. … In the beginning, it was just let’s get this guy to be optimal, that way he can enjoy his life and be in better shape.”
Things escalated earlier this month. Sanchez had just finished preparing for his own fight with Matt Brown, which took place at UFC Norfolk last month. Marquez wanted to fight, too. So, Sanchez said he would be honored to share a cage with him. That’s what happened at JacksonWink Fight Night on Dec. 1.
“He’s a motivation for all of the Down syndrome community,” Sanchez said. “That even though you have Down syndrome, you can still have a dream. You can still believe in your dream and the dream is possible and it can come true if you really believe in it.”
Sanchez said Marquez fought for his mother. The Ultimate Fighter 1 alum made every concession to make the bout seem as real as possible, even getting the New Mexico Athletic Commission involved.
And “The Shermanator” won by first-round armbar.
“He worked that move a lot during his training,” Sanchez said with a smile. “I just wasn’t aware that he was going to pull it so hard and fast on me.”
While that seems like a very happy ending, the story is far from over. Sanchez said he hopes to train Marquez more, up to two or three times per week, rather than just once. There’s even a new challenge at play: Marquez wants next to fight John Dodson, another JacksonWink MMA competitor.
“This is just the start,” Sanchez said. “Isaac is starting his career now and he’s gonna continue to fight. And we’re gonna get him another fight. Hopefully Little John answers and replies. … He’s a little scared, I think.”
Sanchez, 35, is nearing the end of his UFC career after a decorated, 12-year run with the promotion. He has always been willing to give back to the local community and he’s more than doing his part now. That’s what it was about for Sanchez, not getting all the mainstream attention that training and fighting“The Shermanator” has brought.
“We never planned any of that,” Sanchez said. “It was just all about Isaac fighting for his mom.”