Fight 2 Win is returning to Austin tonight for their 121st event, and while the city isn’t anything new for the promotion, this card will feature something that no other F2W event has before.
Fight 2 Win 121 will feature the promotion’s first blind athlete — a blue belt named Mike Sanchez. An El Paso, TX native, Sanchez started training BJJ in 2015 after spending much of his earlier years as a wrestler. His first instructor at Gracie Barra El Paso offered him a training scholarship, telling him that he didn’t want to take his money, but instead turn him into a world champion. When Sanchez made the move to Austin, his scholarship came with him to Gracie Barra South Austin, enabling him to fully pursue his passion of training and competing in the gi.
So far, Sanchez’s competitive endeavors have paid off. He won silver at the IBJJF San Antonio Open in 2017, and over the summer, he won bronze at the Austin Open. These accolades are impressive for anyone, but even more so for Sanchez. “Being totally blind, I cannot get in the car and drive to training when I want like everybody else can,” he says. “Transportation to get there sometimes can be a pain in the butt.”
Being a blind jiu-jitsu practitioner does have its advantages, though, according to Sanchez. He brings up the very fair point that his training isn’t impacted on whether his training environment is dark or not. “Also once [my instructors] teach me a new move, I could pick it up really easily, and I have amazing grips,” he says.
Sanchez’s unique advantages will likely be on the mind of his F2W opponent, Luke Perry, as the two prepare to face off on the stage. Perry had no idea that his opponent was blind when he accepted the match, and when he found out, he says that he had a lot of “mixed emotions” about the fight. But Perry while he may not know exactly what Sanchez goes through on a daily basis, he can certainly relate with the concept of using jiu-jitsu to overcome significant challenges in life.
“I had struggled with addiction after getting out of the Marines and used fitness to send my life in a positive direction,” he says. “Before jiu-jitsu I just lifted weights, but I felt a void. Jiu-jitsu filled that void and has helped me navigate all aspects of my life. I seem to make better choices and it gives me a reason to continue to push myself.”
The two competitors have exchanged friendly competitive banter ahead of their match, and at one point, Sanchez jokingly suggested that Perry wear a blindfold during their match. Perry took the challenge to heart and accepted it. “I thought there was no better way to embody the martial arts then to level the playing field,” said the 10th Planet Austin blue belt.
Accepting the challenge may have been a no-brainer to Perry, but Sanchez says that he didn’t expect his opponent to go through with it. “I guess you can never not expect anything,” he says. “I think it’s awesome that he accepted it. And we will definitely put on a show for the fans.”
Now that all the prep time is over, both competitors will be stepping onto the stage knowing that they’ve done everything they can to get the win. While competing with a blindfold will be a new experience for Perry, he’s at least trained while wearing one to prepare for his big moment. “I feel confident in my jiu-jitsu, although the last few days since I accepted the challenge, I found training with a blindfold is extremely difficult!” he says. “I plan on working my game and pushing the pace. This is nothing more than another obstacle, and I have overcome far greater obstacles than this in my life.”
Sanchez, too, is competing for a purpose greater than himself. “I’m just going out there and showing that that impossible is possible. And I look forward to competing more on these cards… I feel that I am the pioneer for blind grapplers on this show. Thank you Fight 2 Win staff — Missy and the whole crew — for giving me an opportunity to put us blind people on the map on that card.”
“I’m originally from El Paso,” adds Sanchez, “And after the shooting this past weekend, I will be fighting with the victims of this weekend in El Paso and my heart.”
You can watch Sanchez vs. Perry and many more exciting matches when F2W 121 streams live on FloGrappling tonight!