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Diego Sanchez coach Joshua Fabia explains choke warning to NSAC, chasing Emil Meek with a knife

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UFC 239: Weigh-ins Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Diego Sanchez’s coach doesn’t deny his methods are unusual. But he challenges anyone who says they’re not effective, and he believes he’s unfairly being targeted because of them.

“They all want to see what they expect to see, and they can’t understand what they don’t know how to see,” Joshua Fabia told MMA Fighting. “And because they’re acting like real Americans, setting the example of what Americans do, something new and you don’t recognize and you don’t like it, you just attack it.”

The coach on Thursday responded to a pair of reports detailing unorthodox behavior backstage at UFC 239 and in training for Sanchez’s fight at UFC Rio Rancho, detailing what he said that was important context that had been left out of the picture.

Fabia called the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s behavior before the bout “a preemptive strike.” He bemoaned “a cultural misunderstanding” and infringement of his “religious rights” after the commission confronted him on four different occasions for a variety of issues.

The coach also indicated attacks on his credibility were influenced by race.

“It’s very interesting that it’s mostly almost all white people talking sh*t about me,” Fabia said. “I’m the smallest guy in the stadium, and it’s people talking sh*t about me that have never ever talked to me.”

On Thursday, MMA Junkie reported that Fabia warned the Nevada State Athletic Commission that Sanchez could kill opponent Michael Chiesa with a modified guillotine choke and slam that he’d learned during work with paramilitary groups in South America. The report said the bout was nearly canceled as officials investigated his claim, but in the end, they only issued a verbal warning to be sportsmanlike in competition. Chiesa said he laughed off the move after it was demonstrated on him and mocked its potential in a real fight.

The NSAC declined comment on the story when contacted by MMA Fighting. Chiesa did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Fabia defended his behavior and said his warning came as a result of repeated mistreatment. He said he was trying to defend his fighter from unfair officiating.

“The referee comes in to give us the basic rules and basic rundown,” he said. “But he did something very interesting – he really over-iterated the, ‘If you don’t defend yourself or move within three seconds, I’m going to call it.’ And I thought, ‘Well, jeez, that sounds like you’re already trying to call it.’ OK, that makes sense. You already put him against the guy that’s bigger.

“Me not being a fool, I’m also aware of, OK, well we have been working some pretty serious stuff that if you don’t see it, by the time it goes a little farther, if the person doesn’t go with it, absolutely, a person could get hurt. That is the way you should be functioning. I don’t need to manhandle you; I need to put you in a position of which you either have to go my way, or you break yourself. So now, I’m feeling compelled in this situation that, OK, we’re about ready to come out guns-a-blazing, and I better let him, as referees, have space for the liability here. OK, you want to come at me like that? Well, let me explain this.”

And not only explain, but demonstrate the hold, which he said was the product of work as a “former private military contractor” (he declined to answer additional questions about his work, citing nondisclosure agreements that prevented him from speaking publicly).

“So here’s the ref, looking at me like I’m a jackass, and I do it to him,” Fabia said. “You could see the fear of god come in his eyes. Here’s the rest of the story they don’t tell you.

“It must have scared the NSAC and everybody so bad that the president of the NSAC, another guy from the commission, both referees, pull me out again in the hallway, and now they want to grill me on how the f*ck I know this, when you don’t ask any coach how they know anything. So what’s going on, then?

“It’s pretty clear if your referee doesn’t call it, it is potentially dangerous. That’s on you, ref. It ain’t my fault you don’t know my moves. I’m just giving you awareness. Now, what do they do? Now they steamroll me, and instead of going, ‘Hey, can we speak to your fighter,’ they go right in and start taking everything out of Diego.”

Fabia said as the result of the pressure, Sanchez completely changed his game plan during the fight, wrestling instead of striking with Chiesa, who pitched a shutout on scorecards with unanimous 30-26 scores.

“I don’t want to hear any of this sh*t,” Fabia said. “This is all bullsh*t. They want to come at me like that? That’s interesting that you’re that scared, that that’s the angle you want to come at me.”

The confrontation was the last of disruptions Fabia said began with his decision to burn a piece of Palo Santo wood in a prayer before Sanchez faced danger in the octagon; the commission asked him to snuff out the smoke. He said a commissioner and an NSAC doctor also took issue with him putting peppermint hemp oil up Sanchez’s nose to clear his nasal pathways.

“Diego’s had his nose broken how many times, and breathing is a very important part, so why are we in so much shock that we’re doing it in preparation before a big fight?” he said. “Really kind of awe-inspiring about everybody making a big deal, because I’m not using the western sniffer because of the situation Diego is in with his specific nose. Which, as his coach, I’m aware of which airway isn’t working, which part of his nasal passage has been collapsed.

“When the doctor asked me about it, I had to tell him to his face, ‘You’re a doctor and you don’t know how to do this?’ What’s really shocking is you don’t know how to do this, and you’re trying to put pressure on me that I’m a weirdo because I know how to take care of somebody better than you do? Because I’m not shy about putting a finger up his nose?

“In reality, it kind of sounds like they’re a little scared of me. It kinda sounds like they’re scared of the smallest guy in the f*cking stadium. I don’t know how much insecurity I’m creating in them, but clearly, something is being stirred deep inside these people that they will not stand next to me. They will not allow me to exist. They will not state the facts.”

****

In the wake of Sanchez’s controversial disqualification victory over Michel Pereira at UFC Rio Rancho, other fighters have questioned Fabia’s methods.

UFC welterweight Emil Meek said the coach chased him around the octagon with a knife at the UFC Performance Institute during Sanchez’s training camp for Pereira.

“Man, it was the craziest sh*t I’ve ever done,” Meek told the South China Morning Post. “At one point, he was running after us in a locked cage with a real, sharp blade, to make us move.”

MMA Fighting was unable to reach Meek for comment. But Fabia defended the drill as a useful way to prepare fighters for incoming strikes in octagon combat. He downplayed the severity of using both a knife and several sticks to help motivate the fighters to learn movement and said several UFC fighters, including Meek, Max Griffin Tristan Connelly, praised his coaching.

“The drill is, they’re all in the octagon, moving, trying not to touch each other, or get touched by each other,” he said. “So I want you to think of an athletic, high-speed game of tag that allows you to play, but also play with that fear and anxiety space, without getting hurt, without feeling you can’t make a mistake.

“And so, this is happening, five, six, seven, eight, guys, and I progressively come in and I say, ‘On top of the game that’s going on, this is to enhance your awareness, now I’m coming in, do not allow me to touch you also. So now I’m like a wild animal, putting pressure on all of them and not allowing them to stay focused on their specific thing, and just moving them. This is what I do. I go out, they’re continuing again, I come in with a stick, make them move from the stick at different lengths and different speeds. This is why Pereira didn’t land those big kicks on Diego. Amazing.

“So now, the drill has been picked up, and now you need truth, because I can tell that you’re playing. You’re not treating each touch as if it was true danger. Where if I treat each strike as a knife strike, you will move. Now before this drill even began, I showed them the power of the history of metal in the human body by showing them that Diego, with his eyes closed, I can move a knife toward his body, and his body will feel it. You can see his body reacting. That the human body can feel metal; it’s different. It’s from the history of how much the human body has been stabbed. I show them visually, they see it, they have idea.

“Now, 20 minutes later, yeah, I chase them around with a knife to make them move, so they realize, I’m not playing around. And if you think the guy in the ring when it’s one-on-one is playing around, that might be why you end up losing an eye.”

Asked about Meek’s account, Griffin laughed and confirmed Fabia had tried to hit him with a stick during a training session before he had to leave for physical therapy. He said the warmup for the session consisted of 100 continuous tumbles that tested his vestibular system.

Griffin also said Fabia had lectured the fighters about knives and claimed their bodies wouldn’t allow them to get stabbed.

“You’re damn right,” he said of his response to Fabia. “I’m not letting you stab me.”

When Griffin ran into Meek after the session, he said the Norwegian fighter “was tripping.”

“He said, ‘That f*cking dude, he had a f*cking knife,’” Griffin said. “It was funny, but then (former UFC fighter and PI executive) Forrest (Griffin) had to take it. Forrest had to shut it all down.”

Griffin called Fabia’s coaching “unique,” but didn’t dismiss it outright.

“It had some value in it,” he said. “I wouldn’t do it for a training camp or anything. I would do it to mix something in. I wouldn’t do it every day.”