Emiliano Sordi is one fight away from capping off a flawless 2019.
His path was anything but set in stone and just 12 months ago it looked like Sordi was on his way to becoming an MMA also-ran. Unquestionably talented, but unable to meaningfully put the pieces together when it mattered most.
The 28-year-old just kept falling short despite earning some major opportunities. He had an uneventful three-fight run with Bellator, saw his UFC hopes dashed when he lost on the Contender Series in just 26 seconds to Ryan Spann, and then failed to make the playoffs in his first season with the PFL. Sordi finished 2018 with a 17-8 pro record and losses in four of his previous eight bouts. It was hardly the stuff of a future champion.
And yet that’s exactly what Sordi will be when the New Year rolls around if he can beat Jordan Johnson in the 2019 PFL light heavyweight tournament finals Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He finished both of his regular season bouts and both of his playoff bouts and is now one win away from a PFL title and a $1,000,000 prize.
Three years ago, Sordi made the move from Argentina to San Diego to take his game to the next level, and while having more fighters his size to work with and elite training partners like Phil Davis has helped him between the fences, he gives just as much credit to his mental coach Ariel Sendral for helping him get sorted out between the ears.
“It was either go to a mental coach or quit fighting,” Sordi told MMA Fighting via a translator. “Because I wasn’t feeling the adrenaline going into a fight.”
“Every fighter should [use a mental coach],” He added. “Some fighters are extremely violent, some are not that violent, and that can help you to regulate that, for example.”
It wasn’t just losing that bothered Sordi, though quick finishes at the hands of Spann and rival Bozigit Ataev last year certainly didn’t help. It was the lack of motivation, the lack of competitive fire. And if he couldn’t be motivated to compete for a million dollars, what would it take?
Working with Sendral has brought a new perspective for Sordi, a welcome calm as opposed to the kind of stillness that could be unproductive—and dangerous—for him inside the cage. It’s a stark contrast to the attitude that some of his peers carry on fight night.
“Because they think they are tough,” Sordi said, when asked why more fighters don’t have a coach to help them with psychological hurdles. “Sometimes being that tough is the problem.”
In his first fight of the 2019 PFL regular season, Sordi found himself matched up against tournament favorite Vinny Magalhaes. One of the most feared grapplers in all of MMA, Magalhaes was fresh off of a runner-up finish in 2018 and was expected to make another strong run this year.
Sordi knocked him out in the second round.
OVERWHELMING PERFORMANCE! “He-Man” @EmilianoSordi puts the entire light heavyweight division on notice with a huge win 2nd round TKO over Vinny Magalhaes and secures 5 points. #PFL3 pic.twitter.com/87IZ11ALDu— PFL MMA (@ProFightLeague) June 7, 2019
It was the biggest win of Sordi’s career and he followed that up by avenging a loss to Ataev via first-round knockout and then later running through Sigi Pesaleli in 73 seconds in the quarter-finals of the PFL playoffs. By the time he came up against Ataev a third time in the semifinals, the secret was out: Sordi was a contender.
“I had the confidence that I could win the season before the fight against Vinny,” Sordi said. “It’s just people could now see that I could do it, but I believed in myself before that fight.”
Sordi finished Ataev again to win their series 2-1, completing his shift from underdog to PFL star. His fame in Argentina has grown, though he jokes that it seemingly has less to do with his performances and more to do with friends finding out that he could soon be bringing home a seven-figure check.
He’s not overly concerned with what he’ll do with the money, nor is he worried about not being himself on fight night. After all, just competing at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” is the culmination of a goal that Sordi once thought was just in his head.
“I fought in New York, but I never fought in Madison Square Garden,” Sordi said. “It’s a dream I’ve had for a long time, and I’m going to make it true this fight.”